US defense chief warns on defense spending cuts

By Phil Stewart
May 22, 2011

Obama seeks to security savings of $400 billion

Gates predicts calls to shrink US global role

Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned on Sunday against sharply cutting the size and reach of the U.S. armed forces to trim the deficit, portraying America’s military might as an essential safeguard of global stability.

The comments by Gates to graduating students at Notre Dame University came as some Republicans and Democrats look to defense as a way to address the U.S deficit, running about $1.4 trillion this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

Obama announced plans in April to hold national security spending below the rate of inflation for the next 12 years, a move that would save about $400 billion, mainly from Defense Department budgets.

Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration who is leaving the post at the end of June, predicted future calls for major Pentagon cuts could challenge U.S. global leadership.

“As we make the tough choices needed to put this country’s finances in order … there will undoubtedly be calls to shrink America’s role in the world, for us to sharply reduce our international commitments and the size and capabilities of our military,” he told the audience at the Indiana university.

But Gates said a properly funded U.S. military “cannot be taken for granted.” He pointed to an unpredictable world grappling with nuclear proliferation, terrorism, revolution throughout the Middle East, as well as a nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan and U.S. efforts to end the war in Iraq. …

“But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators, and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power — the size, strength, and global reach of the United States military,” he said. …