A key domestic policy expert for the Heritage Foundation believes proposed military cuts that could come as a result of the ongoing federal budget impasse could dramatically limit the government’s ability to offset the military hardware that needs replacing as a result of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
In an interview with Newsmax TV, Michaela Bendikova, the foundation’s associate for strategic issues, said the $48 billion in military cuts that would come as part of the sequester would set the nation’s armed forces up for a “readiness crisis.”
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“The impact will be significant because the only programs that you can cut (quickly) are operations and maintenance and research, development and procurement,” she said. “We are setting ourselves up for a readiness crisis in our military.”
Bendikova said the cuts that could come as part of the sequester would severely limit the government’s ability to replace valuable military equipment.
“These cuts will be devastating to the U.S. military. We’re still living off President Reagan’s military buildup, but we’ve been engaged in war in Iraq and Afghanistan for more than 10 years,” she said. “We have to have money to replace equipment whose attrition rate is higher than expected. Sequestration pretty much assures the money for resetting that equipment is not there.”
Another potential casualty of the sequester, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, could be the entire European leg of the U.S. missile shield currently protecting Europe.
“There are already delays in the program and the plan doesn’t really address the ballistic missile threat,” Bendikova said. “The threat is growing, while the U.S. homeland would not be protected until 2017. The question is whether (current defenses) will be enough as the threat from Iran and North Korea progresses and advances.”
Turning to the nation’s nuclear arsenal, speculation has risen in recent weeks that President Barack Obama may seek to reduce the country’s nuclear arsenal by as much as one third, beyond levels set in the 2010 START treaty. Some fear he may seek to take this action through executive order if he can’t get Congressional approval. Bendikova said such cuts would be short sighted because the arsenal benefits countries around the world.
“It would absolutely weaken national security because more than 30 countries all over the world rely on the U.S. nuclear security guarantees,” she said.
Bendikova is quick to point out that reducing the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile would actually require significant funding that only Congress can approve.
Among those who view potential nuclear weapons cuts as bad policy are 18 former military and national security officials who wrote to President Obama, telling him that North Korea’s recent underground nuclear test is a prime reason to keep the nation’s nuclear arsenal at current levels. Bendikova said neither North Korea nor Iran have the capabilities to create the same kind of danger caused by the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons buildup decades ago. However, she said such steps could send a bad message to U.S. allies.
“The U.S. provides nuclear security guarantees to over 40 countries in the world. Introducing nuclear weapons to the regional equation can have potentially damaging impacts on our relationships all over the world,” she said.
Turning to Iran, some nations have proposed relieving sanctions against Tehran if it agrees to curb its nuclear program. Bendikova is skeptical of that approach and believes it is unlikely Iran will stop its program.
“I do not see Iran backing off its nuclear weapons program. In fact, Iran and North Korea are very closely cooperating on both ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs,” she said. “North Korea conducted many long-range tests and just conducted nuclear weapons experiments. (These) are existing links where North Korea can share its knowledge with Iran, so I don’t think Iran has an incentive to give up its nuclear weapons program.”
Responding to arguments by some who say that reductions in nuclear weapons won’t have the same impact today that it might have had decades ago before the invention of drones and the use of computer viruses as weapons, Bendikova said those tools are missing one important impact.
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