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Obama Wants Defense Review, $400 Billion in Cuts

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (file photo)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (file photo)

The Pentagon says President Barack Obama’s desire to find $400 billion over the next 12 years in additional defense spending cuts will result in reductions in U.S. military capabilities. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is launching a comprehensive review to develop options for the president to consider.

In his budget speech Wednesday, President Obama praised Secretary Gates for finding $400 billion in cuts based mainly on improved efficiency. Then he said he wants the same amount of cuts again.

"We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete." Obama said.

In a fact sheet, the White House specified that the president wants to hold defense spending increases below the inflation level, and save $400 billion between now and 2023. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the cuts would affect the defense department’s base budget, currently $553 billion per year. At the current spending rate that would be a cut of about 6 1/2 per cent per year. The cuts would not affect funding for the current wars.

Still, Morrell says reductions of that magnitude will have a real impact on U.S. defense capabilities, and will be considered carefully during the review the president ordered.

"The secretary has been clear that further significant defense cuts can not be accomplished without reducing force structure and military capability. The comprehensive review of missions, capabilities and America’s role in the world will identify alternatives for the president’s consideration. The secretary believes this process must be about managing risk associated with future threats and national security challenges, and identifying missions that the country is willing to have the military forego." Morrell said.

Morrell says Secretary Gates was not aware the president wanted the review until Tuesday, and is still putting together a plan with other senior officials. The secretary did not speak in public Wednesday, but at a news conference in February he urged members of congress not to make defense cuts based on fixed amounts, but rather only based on the strategic and operational realities of today’s world.

"Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country's security and vital interests around the world," Gates said.

The press secretary, Geoff Morrell, says the Pentagon’s review of threats and capabilities will not be finished in time to impact the coming debate over the budget for next year. Rather, he says, any strategy-based reductions will be part of the president’s budget proposal for 2013.