Home News & Analysis Army General Dempsey Takes Helm of U.S. Joint Military Forces as Admiral Mullen Retires; Says Economics Will Be Defining Factor

GUAM – The new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff expects his tenure to be defined by the economy, and acknowledges that the nation's economic state means that the U.S. military will have to take some resource cuts and become a smaller force.

In the way that the military of recent decades has been defined by counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and combat, General Martin E. Dempsey expects that today's fiscal austerity will challenge the U.S. joint forces to develop options to keep the nation secure.

"Keeping our military the best led, best trained, and best equipped force in the world is the non-negotiable imperative," Gen. Dempsey wrote in a letter to the joint force on Oct. 1. "Doing so in a new fiscal environment will be hard, but we've overcome similar challenges in our past."

As the nation's most senior U.S. military officer, and the principal uniformed advisor to the President and the Secretary of Defense, Gen. Dempsey has said that maintaining control over how cuts to the defense budget are made is key to maintaining balance in the forces.

As Congress has until December to agree on a deficit reduction plan for the nation before automatic cuts across the board are triggered at the Pentagon, General Dempsey reiterated the need for the cuts to be strategic and not merely mathematical.

"Whether we hollow [the forces] or not will largely depend on whether we have the ability [absorb resource cuts] by turning all those levers -- manpower, force structure, maintenance, equipment, training, and infrastructure," he said earlier this month at an Army change of responsibility ceremony. Disproportionate cuts to any of these risks hollowing out the force, he said.

Uncertainty over how Washington's new fiscal austerity will impact the Pentagon's strategy for national security continues to stall military expansion projects on Guam, including the $17.4 billion buildup meant to prepare the island to receive 8,600 U.S. Marines from Okinawa.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has confirmed that the Pentagon is undergoing a strategy review to prepare to find $450 billion in savings over 10 years as a result of the new debt ceiling law. But any failure by Congress to meet the December deadline could trigger an additional $500 billion to $600 billion in required cuts. The Pentagon meanwhile has said its study may not be completed until the end of the year or later.


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Department of Defense graphic by Paul Sherman.

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