Amos: Sequester Would Result in Marines Unprepared for Missions
Marines routinely sail around the world as a forward-deployed response force to crises, natural disasters and other contingencies. The presence alone offshore of a single assault ship full of Marines can prevent foreign conflicts from erupting into all-out conflagration, Commandant of the Marine Corps General James F. Amos said at a forum hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
But those missions and others will have to be scaled back if the service is continually squeezed for cash, he said.
“As we begin to retrench because of fiscal challenges, we’re going to pull away from those global responsibilities,” he said.
Amos spoke after two full days of congressional testimony regarding sequestration’s impact on the U.S. military. During both sessions, Amos focused on the Marine Corps’ strategic role as a global force and missions that would be nearly impossible to perform if another $487 billion is pulled from the Pentagon’s coffers.
He listed several instances where Marines were able to act as “America’s insurance policy” giving civilian and uniformed officials “breathing space” to make decisions.
During the Libyan revolution, the 26th Marine Expeditionary Force sat offshore and provided air cover for rebel forces for two days before NATO forces proper could muster. The 31st MEU responded almost immediately in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that ravaged northern Japan in 2011. When northern Pakistan was swamped by epic floods in 2010, Marines were able to save 60,000 people, Amos said.
“Those things will be in jeopardy” if the Marine Corps is deprived of any more funding than has already been withheld or is allowed to dip below 182,000 personnel as is the current plan, he said.
“We’re going to have to decide as a nation what it is we don’t want to do anymore,” Amos said. “Or maybe a better question is, 'what is it we can’t afford to do anymore?'”
While attempting to not be “myopic” about the Marine Corps, which as a specialty force has often had to justify its usefulness, Amos said the amphibious service would inevitably take a disproportionate hit from any spending cut.
The service’s budget for the current fiscal year is $23.9 billion with a modernization account of $2.4 billion. Sequester could result in more than $1 trillion in defense spending cuts over the next decade.
“We’re a small service,” Amos said. “For me, that [sequestration] is going to cancel programs. Even if it’s the same proportional reduction as the other services, my accounts are so small that the proportional cut has a disproportional effect on the United States Marine Corps.”
After a year under sequester-level funding, half of all Marines would be underprepared for deployment, Amos said.
“Once you get out farther than a year, about 50 percent of our major combat units … will be at a significantly decreased readiness level. They will be at a level where we would not want to send them to combat.”
The service sits at about 197,000 troops, which is down from a peak of 202,000. Plans are in the works to excise about 5,000 troops per year for at least the next four years, Amos said, adding that without active wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the downsizing is appropriate.
“We don’t need a Marine Corps that’s 202,000 if we’re not tied up on the ground,” he said. “But we do need a Marine Corps that is forward deployed, that is engaging and building trust.”
That was his message to Congress: to deal with a world with almost perpetual tension and conflict, rising superpowers, rogues nations and the continuing threat of terrorism, the United States needs a Marine Corps.
He cited the strife cropping up in North Africa and al-Qaida’s new residence in Mali as examples of friction points the service could be called to address. He added North Korea’s recent detonation of a nuclear weapon to the list, as well as perpetual conflict between Israel and its neighbors and the Syrian civil war to the list.
“If we think we can turn our back on those kinds of threats, we’re kidding ourselves,” Amos said. “I think the threats will find themselves in Atlanta, New York, San Francisco … Washington, D.C.”
Photo Credit: Marines