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News | Feb. 11, 2015

Budget Cuts Mean Long-term Risk, Northcom Chief Says

By xxxBy Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Feb. 11, 2015 – Though the United States has seen military budgets drop following wars, today’s cuts are piling on to a complex security environment seldom seen in history, the commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command said yesterday.

Speaking in San Diego at the West 2015 Expo sponsored by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the U.S. Naval Institute, Navy Adm. Bill Gortney said America faces many dangers, even as the U.S. military draws down from almost 14 years of war.

He cited Russia, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, al-Qaida, problems arising from the Arab Spring, cyber warfare, challenges from China, Iranian nuclear ambitions, North Korean unpredictability, the possibility of homegrown terrorism and the nexus of transnational criminal gangs and terror groups as examples.

Historic Reductions

“Historically, there is a 27 to 32 percent reduction in the DoD budget when coming out of major wars,” the admiral said. “We’re about 10 to 12 percent into that historical reduction -- assisted by the ‘improbable’ sequestration becoming a reality. Without a change in budget law, sequestration will impose major spending cuts in 2016 in addition to those already planned.

Gortney said he is not arguing about whether the budget should come down, calling it a “fact of life” and acknowledging that the military must deal with that.

“The problem today is this: Coming out of major wars, we have always entered a more secure international security environment than when we went to war,” he explained. “That’s why we go to war. This time, … the international security environment is clearly not better than when we started.”

Failing to fund the military to the level that it needs to protect the United States, its allies and its interests presents a risk, the admiral said.

“We need to better articulate what risk means, identify who owns risk, and explain how risk impacts our ability to execute our strategy, he said.

Three Types of Risk

From his perspective, Gortney said, there are three types of risk: risk to mission, risk to the force executing the mission and risk to the long-term health of the force.

“I look at risk through the eyes of commanders,” he said. “When mission and lives are at stake, only commanders can and will be held accountable.”

History shows the problems when commanders get the first two types of risk wrong, Gortney said. “But what about the third: risk to the future force?” he asked.

Failure in the first two types of risk most often result from failure in assessing the third type of risk, Gortney said, citing Task Force Smith, which was routed by North Korean forces in July 1950 as the classic example. Failing to maintain capabilities will mean more lives lost, more treasure expended and more time taken to defeat a threat, the admiral said.

“How well today’s commanders succeed in dealing with today’s missions is really a function of yesterday’s decisions,” he said, “and how well tomorrow’s commanders succeed in tomorrow’s missions will be a result of decisions we must make today.”

Inadequate Resources

This is where inadequate resources really are felt, Gortney said, and U.S. military leaders must explain that they need these resources now to mitigate the risks of tomorrow.

The world is unpredictable, the admiral said, noting that no one predicted Russia’s hybrid attack on Ukraine, the U.S. military involvement with Ebola relief or the rise of ISIL.

Budget reductions have meant hard choices, Gortney added, and most of the money is borrowed from tomorrow’s accounts.

“The cascading effect of accumulated readiness reductions over time increases the three types of risk,” he said. “Failing to maintain the long-term readiness of the force today is a recipe for mission failure with unacceptable losses in the future.”