June 14 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. assistance to Latin American and African militaries may face cuts as the Pentagon tries to pare $400 billion from the defense budget over the next 12 years, said Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Mullen, President Barack Obama’s top military adviser, said such programs may be viewed as a lower priority as the Defense Department seeks to protect personnel, spending on current conflicts and the most critical weapons programs.
“Those are preventative investments,” Mullen said, of the military aid. The programs help avoid conflicts and allow the U.S. to better respond in a crisis, he said in a Bloomberg View editorial board interview in New York yesterday. “You’ll see that ratchet back.”
Such cuts may hurt the Pentagon strategy to help other militaries gain the skills and capabilities they need to bear their own security burden and contribute more to regional defense. Obama has called for $400 billion of cuts in defense spending to help ease the federal deficit even as he seeks more alliances to strengthen security.
The department’s Quadrennial Defense Review last year called for more action to bolster the military capacity of allies and partners, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates has sought more equipment, training and support for such projects.
Mullen, whose term at the Joint Chiefs of Staff ends in September, didn’t specify which countries could be affected. The U.S. military’s newest combatant command, Africom, focuses on joint security exercises and programs to buttress African nations’ capability to fight security scourges such as narcotics trafficking.
While U.S. leadership will continue to be “critical,” other countries will need to help in efforts such as the coalition of militaries that has fought pirates in the Gulf of Aden, Mullen said.
“We’re so interconnected and interdependent,” he said. “It will be more and more the case that there isn’t a single country that can do it alone.”
He had earlier cited Egypt as an example of military ties built over 30 years of U.S. assistance that reached $1.3 billion annually and proved crucial during that country’s uprising that led to President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February.
Mullen, 64, was in frequent contact with his counterpart, armed forces Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Hafez Enan, in the Egyptian military as it decided how to handle the protests.
The admiral, who just returned from an overseas trip that included a meeting with Enan in Cairo, said he considered U.S. funding for Egypt’s military a “relatively inexpensive investment.”
While Egypt is concerned about the instability on its border with Libya and further afield in Syria, the military leaders preparing for elections that would restore a civilian government are most focused on their internal situation, Mullen said. They’re particularly concerned with obtaining sufficient economic and financial assistance to get them through the current crisis, he said.
Gates last week warned European allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that the alliance risks “collective military irrelevance” unless they step up their own defense spending so they can contribute more.
Mullen reconfirmed views he has expressed in congressional testimony and other public appearances that the Pentagon and lawmakers must grapple with the skyrocketing costs of health benefits and other compensation to avoid harmful cuts to the size of the armed forces.
In addition to retaining the best young members of the military and taking care of veterans, the priorities should include ensuring the proper financing of current conflicts and preserving the most important weapons programs, he said.
“We’re going to very clearly kill programs that are not performing,” Mullen said. Even some of those that survive probably will have to be slowed, he said.
He said he’s pushing for decisions based on “a strategic view.”
The potential for cyber attacks is quickly becoming a priority concern for the Pentagon, Mullen said.
“I really believe cyber is one of two existential threats that are out there, the other being nuclear weapons,” he said. He added that the nuclear threat is controlled to a certain extent by the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed with Russia in 2010 that took effect this year and resumed inspections by each side of the other’s facilities.
Cyber attacks are a particular threat because they could affect economic infrastructure such as financial and transportation systems.
“It needs to be front and center,” he said, “in all of our war-fighting thinking.”
In recent days, the International Monetary Fund’s computer system was targeted by hackers, believed to be connected to a foreign government, who retrieved e-mails and other documents, according to a person familiar with the attack.
The infiltration follows reported hacks at Google Inc., Sony Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Citigroup Inc. in the past three months. The FBI has said it would increase efforts to combat cyber-attacks by criminal gangs, industrial spies and foreign governments.
--Editors: Steven Komarow, Jodi Schneider
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