WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Tuesday against budget cuts that could force an abrupt pullout of the US security presence in the Pacific at a time when China’s power is rising.
The debate over reducing the US debt “does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America’s interests,” Clinton told officers at the National Defense University.
“We need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future and there are a lot of issues that are not in the headlines but are in the trendlines,” she said.
“We are asserting our presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power. That means all elements of our national security team have to be present,” the chief US diplomat said in a conversation with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“And we can’t be abruptly pulling back or pulling out when we know we face some long-term challenges about how we are going to cope with what the rise of China means,” she said in the conversation moderated by CNN television.
Experts said the deal to avert a US debt default should have little effect on the Pentagon’s huge budget in the short term, but leaves the door open to sharp cuts that could force a strategy overhaul.
The deal signed into law by Obama on August 2 calls for at least $2.1 trillion in cuts in government spending over 10 years.
The White House said military spending will fall by $350 billion in the first round of $917 billion in cuts, in line with Pentagon expectations.
A special congressional committee has been created to come up with a second round of $1.5 trillion in further cuts from all areas.
But if the bipartisan committee fails, then cuts of $1.2 trillion would automatically come into force — divided evenly between military and non-military spending.