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Gates warns of fallout from big US defense cuts

South America, Africa spend more on arms
Stockholm, Sweden (UPI) Apr 13, 2011 - Global arms spending rose to more than $1.6 trillion in 2010, with South America and Africa accounting for the fastest relative increases over the previous year, a Swedish defense industry watchdog said. Money spent on defense in South America last year increased 5.8 percent to $63.3 billion on the region's economic boom, the geopolitical rise of Brazil and internal security threats in some states, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said in a study released this week. "This continuing increase in South America is surprising given the lack of real military threats to most states and the existence of more pressing social needs," Carina Solmirano, Sipri's South America expert, said in a statement. The watchdog from Stockholm has in the past warned of an arms race in South America. Defense spending in Africa increased 5.2 percent over 2009, led by major oil-producers such as Algeria, Angola and Nigeria. Over the past decade, military expenditures rose by 64 percent.

While the increases in South America and Africa are cause for concern, they're coming from a relatively modest total and are dwarfed by the U.S. focus on military power. While growth in U.S. defense expenditures slowed in 2010, its $698 billion spent remains exceptional compared to other nations. "The United States has increased its military spending by 81 percent since 2001 and now accounts for 43 percent of the global total, six times its nearest rival China," said Sam Perlo-Freeman, the project's head researcher. "At 4.8 percent of gross domestic product, U.S. military spending in 2010 represents the largest economic burden outside the Middle East." Defense spending in Europe, plagued by a debt crisis, fell 2.8 percent to $382 billion.

While major spenders such as Britain, France and Germany experienced modest cuts, many smaller Central and Eastern European countries saw large falls, Sipri said. They include Bulgaria (28 percent), Latvia (26 percent) and Georgia (25 percent). In Asia, economic growth slowed down in 2009 while military spending continued to rise rapidly, Sipri said. "Thus, the slower increase of 1.4 percent in military spending in 2010 partly readjusts growth in military spending to economic growth rates," the watchdog writes. "The Chinese government, for example, explicitly linked its smaller increase in 2010 to China's weaker economic performance in 2009." In the Middle East, countries spent $111 billion on military in 2010, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2009. Sipri notes, however, that its data for the Middle East is plagued by a "very low level of transparency." Iran, for example, is exempt from the report: It hasn't revealed its spending on arms.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 13, 2011
Pentagon chief Robert Gates on Wednesday warned that major cuts to US defense spending planned by President Barack Obama would require scaling back military forces, missions and capabilities.

The Pentagon's stern response came after Obama unveiled a deficit-reduction plan that includes a proposed cut of $400 billion in security spending by 2023.

Although the defense secretary believed the Pentagon could not be "exempt" from efforts to reduce the rising deficit, deep cuts in military spending in coming years would require difficult choices and could not be merely a "budget math exercise," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

"The secretary has been clear that further significant defense cuts cannot be accomplished without reducing force structure and military capability," Morrell said in a statement.

The warning suggested a rift between the White House and the defense secretary, who has cautioned previously that dramatic cuts in military spending could have "catastrophic" consequences.

Gates apparently played no role in drafting the president's plan, as he had only learned of Obama's proposal for defense spending on Tuesday, Morrell said.

"We just got this direction," he said.

Asked if Gates was angered over the deficit-reduction proposal, Morrell said he would not characterize the defense secretary's personal reaction -- only his "professional" reaction to the plan.

Gates, a Republican holdover from George W. Bush's administration, has cancelled or cut back a number of big ticket weapons programs but argued against dramatic cutbacks.

Morrell said Gates supported the president's plan to hold a thorough review of military missions before deciding on spending cuts over ten years.

"The comprehensive review of missions, capabilities, and America's role in the world will identify alternatives for the president's consideration.

"The secretary believes that this process must be about managing risk associated with future threats and national security challenges and identifying missions that the country is willing to have the military forgo," he said.

In his high-stakes speech on the deficit, Obama said that savings had to be found in defense spending and not just in domestic programs.

Obama said that Gates had already shown political courage by cutting waste and finding $400 billion in savings over the past two years.

"I believe we can do that again," Obama said.

According to the White House, Obama's plan "sets a goal of holding the growth in base security spending below inflation, while ensuring our capacity to meet our national security responsibilities, which would save $400 billion by 2023."

The White House did not specify what weapons programs or forces might have to be cut to meet the goal.

Part of the savings could come from the scheduled withdrawal of the remaining US troops from Iraq by the end of the year, as well as a planned drawdown of nearly 100,000 forces in Afghanistan starting in July.

Republicans and some Democrats in Congress tend to view defense spending as sacrosanct, seeking to find savings elsewhere in the federal budget.

But fiscal pressures have prompted calls to consider scaling back the country's vast defense budget, by far the largest in the world.

The defense budget for 2010 came to about $680 billion and the price tag for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001 has surpassed one trillion dollars.

Morrell said it would take time for military leaders to conduct a review of Pentagon spending and their recommendations would likely not be ready in time to influence the proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2012.

"It will not be done in time to affect the FY '12 defense budget, so it will likely be reflected in the FY '13 budget submitted early next year," he told reporters.

With Gates saying he plans to step down later this year amid speculation he could leave over the summer, the difficult decisions on defense spending will likely be inherited by his successor -- who has yet to be named.

Gates told the chiefs of the armed services that the president's plan marked the start of a process "and not the conclusion," Morrell said.

Military leaders "should not allow it or the ensuing debate to distract them from doing what is necessary to fight and win the conflicts which we are currently fighting."

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