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American Forces Press Service

Panetta, Dempsey Discuss Risks, Threats of the Future

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2012 – The military must accept greater risks as a result of the new defense strategy and the constrained fiscal environment, but they are manageable, Defense Department leaders said here today.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the greatest risk comes from having a smaller force.

Over the next five years, the Army will drop from 562,000 to 490,000 soldiers, and the Marine Corps from 202,000 to 182,000. “The risks come with the fact that … we will have a smaller force,” Panetta said during a briefing on fiscal 2013 defense budget priorities.

The force still will be larger than at 9/11, and will still be able to do its many missions. But “when you have a smaller force, there are risks associated with that in terms of our capability to respond,” Panetta said. “We think we've dealt with those risks because the combination of the forces we have in place and the ability, if we have to, to mobilize quickly will give us the capability to deal with any threat.”

There are other risks associated with U.S. dependence on technology, the secretary said. “We’re depending a great deal on being at the technological edge of the future,” he said. “Can we develop the kind of technology we're going to need to confront the future? I’m confident we can, but there are risks associated with that.”

Even with the risks, not taking them is itself a greater risk, Dempsey said. “The greater risk would be had we decided that we would just wish away any particular capability or any particular form of conflict,” he said. “So, say, ‘no, … we're just never going to do that.’ What you're expressing here is the recognition that we are retaining our full-spectrum capability, and that we didn't take any risk with that.”

This is a different situation for a drawdown than in the past, Panetta said, when the military drew down because the threat itself was gone. “The reality is that as we draw down from Iraq and Afghanistan, we still face a number of very important threats in the world,” he said. “Obviously we're continuing to fight a war in Afghanistan, and we continue to face the threat of terrorism.”

There are threats in the tribal area of Pakistan, as well as in Yemen and Somalia, Panetta said. “We see the threats coming from Iran, and a nuclear-capable Iran represents a threat to us and to the world,” he said. “Weapons of mass destruction and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are a concern. North Korea is a concern because they, too, are developing a nuclear capability.”

Other threats come from continued turmoil in the Middle East and the potential for cyber warfare. “You can see the vast array of threats that we have to confront with the force that we've designed here,” Panetta said. “So it's all of those that are my concern for the future.”

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