McCain questions U.S. Pacific Forces commander on military sequestration

By Jennifer-Leigh Oprihory - MEDILL   |   April 9, 2013 at 4:45 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, April 9 -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., grilled the head of military operations in the Pacific Tuesday, demanding answers about the impact of sequestration on U.S. military efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.

Pacific Forces Commander Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III eventually said the 5 percent sequestration cuts to the Defense Department budget “would have a catastrophic effect on our ability to do the type of global operations that we’re doing today.”

In prepared testimony for the Senate Armed Services Committee, Locklear laid out risks to U.S. national security and the security of the Asia-Pacific including, but not limited to, nuclear-related movements in Pyongyang and the military buildup in China.

But rather than focusing exclusively on North Korean or Chinese threats, McCain used the question-and-answer period to gauge Locklear’s view of the sequester’s impact on future U.S. military capabilities.

“I would say that we’ll have to closely assess globally the types of things that our military is being asked to do,” Locklear said.

McCain then interjected, asking him to focus his answer exclusively on the U.S. Pacific Forces Command.

Locklear responded by saying that decisions involving reprioritization would be key to predicting the eventual impact of the sequestration on U.S. Pacific Command efforts, acknowledging that “it will be a challenge.”

“I think at the end of sequestration, we’ll still have the most powerful military in the world,” he said.

But McCain wasn’t done.

“My question is not whether we will still have the most powerful military in the world,” he shot back. “My question is: Will we be able to carry out the assigned missions that Pacific Command has now in a sufficient manner to ensure our nation’s security if sequestration continues on the path that it’s on?”

After a bit of back and forth with McCain, Locklear said, “Sequestration would have a catastrophic effect on our ability to do the type of global operations that we’re doing today.”

“Now that sequestration appears to be heading in that, that direction, at least in the near term, then they’ll be decisions that the Department of Defense will be forced to make.”

“If the strategic choice is that…we’re not going to be able to provide the force levels that we have today in the Pentagon, the answer to your question is that I can’t do it.”

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