YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Budget cuts and force drawdowns won’t stop the U.S. from helping its friends and allies around the world, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told American and Japanese servicemembers shortly after he arrived in Japan Saturday.
America’s ability to come to the aid of other nations has been called into question by defense cuts that, military leaders say, will increase the risks faced by troops in any future conflict.
Hagel acknowledged that some overseas were questioning America’s power.
“As we draw down our force structure it does amplify a larger… question that’s in the minds of the world and especially our allies,” Hagel said. “That’s the reason I’m out here. To reassure our allies. We are not retreating from the world.”
Russia’s annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine last month is on the minds of people in North Asia, where territorial sea disputes have raised the risk of conflict in recent months.
During a meeting with 10 defense ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hawaii this past week Hagel told Bloomberg News that the U.S. could station an additional Army brigade in Europe — one of a number of options the U.S. and NATO are considering to bolster security in response to Russia’s actions.
He reminded the troops at Yokota Air Base that the U.S. still has 400,000 personnel deployed in 100 countries. U.S. forces are building capacity in partner nations, sharing technology and holding joint exercises, he said.
“Our defense structure and our capabilities and our readiness and capacity is still more than sufficient to fulfill the missions and objectives we have to protect the U.S. and stay committed to our partners and allies around the world,” he said.
However, Hagel said force cuts could only go so deep before there was an impact.
“The world is still dangerous and I fear it is going to continue to be dangerous,” he said.
The Defense Department could be hit with billions of dollars worth of additional cuts in a few years if lawmakers can’t hammer out a compromise to avoid automatic sequestration under the Budget Control Act of 2011, he said.
“If Congress doesn’t change sequestration, what all of our senior leaders have said… is that we will face more risks in future,” he said. “We will have the readiness and the resources to do the job, but if we don’t get the increases we have asked for then that will come with more risk.”
Hagel, who later met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, next heads to China, which, he said, most of the U.S. military’s service chiefs as well as Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey have visitied in the past year.
“We have many common interests… but we have differences,” he said of the Chinese. “The only way to deal with differences is straight up honest talk about it and deal with it. We don’t want miscalculations.”