WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned Wednesday against any extra deep spending cuts to the Pentagon budget which could be triggered by a further stalemate in the battle to slash the US deficit.
While the new Pentagon chief said he believed defense spending could be reduced responsibly, he was wary of any “hasty” cuts which he said could imperil national security.
“As part of the nation’s efforts to get its finances in order, defense spending will be — and I believe it must be — part of the solution,” Panetta said in a message sent to troops and civilian Pentagon employees.
But he warned that any imposed cuts “could trigger a round of dangerous across-the-board defense cuts that would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our ability to protect the nation.”
Under a bill signed into law Tuesday Washington’s $14.3 trillion debt limit will be raised by up to $2.4 trillion while at least $2.1 trillion will be cut from government spending over 10 years.
The new law calls for more than $900 billion in cuts over the next 10 years — $350 billion of it in defense — and creates a special congressional committee tasked with coming up with another $1.5 trillion in cuts to report by November 23, with Congress voting by December 23.
If the bipartisan committee deadlocks over the cuts, then an automatic mechanism will come into play slashing some $1.2 trillion from budgets, half of which would come defense spending.
Panetta said the agreed cuts in defense spending outlined in the debt deal “are in line with what this department’s civilian and military leaders were anticipating.”
And he stressed: “I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military. But to do that, spending choices must be based on sound strategy and policy.”
But he warned against making hasty decisions which could imperil national security by pointing to mistakes made under previous administrations.
“In the past, such as after the Vietnam War, our government applied cuts to defense across the board, resulting in a force that was undersized and underfunded relative to its missions and responsibilities,” he said.
“I will do everything I can to ensure that further reductions in defense spending are not pursued in a hasty, ill-conceived way that would undermine the military’s ability to protect America and its vital interests around the globe,” he added.