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American Forces Press Service

Winnefeld Gives Blunt Assessment of Budget Options

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, March 17, 2015 – The U.S. defense budget is strategy driven and the nation will be at greater risk if the budget is cut or if sequestration is triggered this year, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

Speaking at the McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference held at the Newseum, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. said the president's fiscal year 2016 budget proposal allows the DoD to defend America's national interests.

The budget request is $35 billion more than envisioned under sequestration, a law requiring major spending cuts that will take effect in October unless Congress changes it. Even at that number, the department will be at the edge of acceptable risk, the admiral said.

Winnefeld delineated the strategic necessities of the United States and their priority. "Such a list enables a more meaningful discussion about strategy because it's a powerful way to support the recommendations we are expected to make referenc[ing] allocations of scarce resources, assessing risk and the use of force," he said. "It's especially valuable because it is prioritized, which some people in this town don't like, because that unlocks the door to very difficult decisions."

The difference between threats and the ability to mitigate them is called risk, Winnefeld said. "Clearly we want to keep risk lowest in the most highly ranked security interests," he said. "It's a simple concept, but it's very difficult to apply in the daily press of daily crises."

Balancing Priorities

The first national security interest is the survival of the United States. This means the DoD must maintain a safe, reliable and effective strategic deterrent.

The second priority is the prevention of catastrophic attacks on the U.S. "This implies protection from a major terrorist attack or a rogue state's nuclear weapon or a cyberattack on our infrastructure," the vice chairman explained.

Winnefeld said the third priority is protection of the global economic system. This means providing security for the physical flow of goods and services and the virtual flow of information. "We rank it highly because it is the driver of American prosperity and a key foundation of American power," he said.

Fourth is maintaining secure, confident and reliable partners and allies. The United States has the most extensive system of allies and partners in history, the admiral said, and they count on American leadership and support.

"Our power and prosperity are deeply linked with theirs," he added. "In protecting our allies against potential mischief, we've always counted on the overmatch on capability and capacity to offset the challenges we have in initiative and distance. We aren't going to start a fight and we have a long way to go to get to one.

Winnefeld noted that the overmatch is now narrowing, as potential adversaries invest in new capabilities and additional capacities.

The next interest is looking after the security of American citizens abroad, he said.

Finally, "we believe we have a role in protecting international boundaries," he said. "In a rules-based international order, these are fundamental to who we are as a nation. A great deal of our moral power is derived from our continued support and adherence to these values, even if some of our competitors don't seem to do the same."

Aligning Resources With Important Interests

These priorities maintain the overall goal of maintaining American leadership and freedom of action across the globe, he said.

The problem comes with the budget. "We can't buy all the capability, capacity and readiness we need to perfectly protect all of these interests all at once," the admiral said.

The Defense Department is facing a trillion dollar budget cut over 10 years, and leaders can turn to this list to make choices to ensure resource decisions are aligned with the most important security interests, Winnefeld said.

"Under the president's budget submission we can do all of this under manageable risk –- but we're on the edge," he said. "Anything less than that –- and I'm not talking about sequester, I'm talking about anything less than our budget submission – and we will have to make tough choices."

Defense leaders will not compromise on protecting the homeland or conducting counterterror operations, he said.

"But our forward presence is either going to have to be at the same level in fewer regions, or at a lower level in the same regions," the admiral said.

"If you look at a chart depicting almost any force element we own alongside our daily demand and our surge demand, you will see gaps are beginning to open between supply and demand," he said. "The military ends of our strategy … are going to have to change if we go below the president's budget submission and even more if we go to sequestration."

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