Hagel orders review of US defence strategy to test its underpinnings in light of budget cuts

WASHINGTON – In response to the budget cuts that took effect March 1, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered a re-evaluation of the underpinnings of the defence strategy that President Barack Obama announced 14 months ago.

Hagel spokesman George Little said Monday that Hagel wants to see the results by May 31.

The Obama strategy, unveiled with great fanfare in January 2012, was meant to reshape defence strategy in the aftermath of lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It called for greater emphasis on security ties in the Asia-Pacific region, a continued focus on the Middle East and a reduced military presence in Europe, as well as improved capabilities in cyberwarfare and missile defence.

Little did not say that Hagel intends to write a new strategy. He said he wants to “examine the choices that underlie” the current strategy. The review is to “define the major decisions that must be made in the decade ahead to preserve and adapt our defence strategy” in light of budget uncertainty, Little said.

Hagel took office three weeks ago facing a range of uncertainties, topped by the prospect of a new round of budget cuts resulting from the failure of Congress and the administration to reach a new deficit-reduction deal by March 1.

The Pentagon was already facing a $487 billion, 10-year reduction in projected spending as part of the budget law that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011. In addition to that, the military is grappling with $43 billion in across-the-board cuts that went into effect on March 1.

Congress has shown little inclination to reverse the $43 billion in cuts while balking at new cost-cutting steps the Pentagon has proposed, such as another round of military base closings. This has unsettled the Pentagon’s leaders, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey said Monday that deficit reduction is necessary and a “national security imperative.” But he also said that the current budget-cutting approach, known as sequestration, is “the most irresponsible way possible to manage the nation’s defence.”

Dempsey did not mention Hagel’s directive for a re-examination of the defence strategy, but he suggested that it was an exercise worth undertaking.

“As I stand here, I don’t yet know how much our defence strategy will change, but I predict it will,” Dempsey said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We’ll need to relook our assumptions. We’ll need to adjust our ambitions to match our abilities.”

Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, had said repeatedly that if the forced budget cuts took effect the administration would have to redo its defence strategy. “We’d probably have to … throw that strategy out the window,” Panetta said June 1.

Little said Hagel’s review will take that 2012 strategy as the “point of departure,” and it will examine whether the assumptions underlying it are valid in light of the budget crisis. He said Hagel ordered the review last week and put his top deputy, Ashton Carter, in charge.


Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.