Senior U.S. defense officials appealed to the Congress Wednesday not to cut military aid programs, saying they contribute to stability around the world, and that the Egyptian military demonstrated that during the recent crisis.
Members of congress are in a budget-cutting mood, aiming to cut the huge government deficit. And one of the largest potential targets is defense spending. President Barack Obama has asked for $671 billion for defense next year, as usual by far the largest part of any president’s discretionary budget.
And within that amount, one of the most attractive targets for some members of Congress is aid to foreign militaries. On Wednesday, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, urged the Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives not to cut such programs, and said recent events in Egypt are evidence of their value.
“Foolhardy would it be for us to make hasty judgments about the benefits - tangible and intangible - that are about to be derived from forging strong military relationships overseas, such as the one we enjoy with Egypt," said Admiral Mullen. "Changes to those relationships - in either aid or assistance - ought to be considered only with an abundance of caution and a thorough appreciation for the long view, rather than in the flush of public passion and the urgency to save a buck.
Mullen said the $1.3 billion annual military aid package for Egypt helped make its army what he called a “capable, professional force,” which he said proved to have “incalculable value” in the crisis.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also praised the Egyptian Army, and linked its performance to its long financial and training relationship with the U.S. military.
“If you ever wanted proof of the value of our military assistance to Egypt over the past 30 years, it has been in the behavior of the Egyptian Army over the past three weeks, and their professionalism in dealing with the kind of situation they had," said Secretary Gates.
U.S. officials have pointed out that past interruptions in U.S. military relations with other countries have often hurt the United States in the long term. Indonesia is an example frequently cited, where the Congress cut military aid due to human rights violations, and ended up creating a generation of Indonesian military officers who had no relationship with their American counterparts.
More broadly, Secretary Gates warned against abandoning what he called U.S. “global security responsibilities” and said short-sighted thinking could “lead to costlier and more tragic consequences later.” Gates said members of Congress too often think of the defense budget as “a math problem.” Rather, he said, it should be viewed in the context of the missions the military has been given, and the threats it may have to respond to in the foreseeable future. He said that at 19 per cent of the federal budget, defense’s share of spending is nearly as low as it has ever been.
Admiral Mullen noted that although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are expected to wind down during the next few years, saving money in the process, the demand for even higher-cost items for the Navy and Air Force may well go up as planners prepare for potential new conventional threats from rising states. And Secretary Gates added there will also be the need for more spending for security in outer space and cyberspace, where both states and non-state entities pose potential threats.