The Southwest - An asset vital to national security

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But no, despite all the assurances to the contrary, sequestration is going to happen. House alternatives have been tacitly rejected by the Senate, which has failed to produce a budget bill for the fourth straight year. A congressional game of “chicken” has produced not agreement but a threatened national security trainwreck. As he departs the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has clearly warned that implementation of the sequester without safeguarding our highest military priorities will prove “devastating” to our national security. 

Of profound concern is the impact of unwise cuts that results in the irreversible loss of training and R&D facilities absolutely essential to America’s future military readiness. Especially critical are those in the southwest region of the United States. The six southwestern states – Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas and Utah – have a unique role in the training of our combined Armed Forces and the testing of new equipment and technologies essential to the protection of the nation. Located in this region are more than 120 military installations, air, land and sea ranges, skilled personnel, excellent research capabilities and a strong industrial base. These combined strengths, spread across the region, comprise a national asset that is irreplaceable. The loss of these bases and ranges so vital to keeping our military at peak readiness would repeat the tragic costly mistakes of American unpreparedness that invited World Wars I and II and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of young Americans.

Today’s world has shrunk to a far smaller and more dangerous arena in which U.S. military strength is constantly assessed by hostile powers eagerly watching for actions that signal a weakening in our military capability and our resolve. President Obama has publicly declared his intention to “pivot” toward Asia in his foreign policy emphasis. To do so credibly absolutely requires maintaining our existing military infrastructure in the southwest region. It is critically important as the Department of Defense gives greater attention to the Pacific theater. In fact, if the defense assets of this region are eroded, America’s ability to project military force when urgently needed anywhere in the world would be at risk, as will our foreign policy credibility.

According to a study undertaken by Andrew Chang & Company in November, 2012, if sequestration cuts are added to earlier mandated cuts to the Department of Defense budget, the region will lose 737,000 jobs over an eight year period. Sequestration would account for 311,000 of those jobs lost.  In fact, directly and indirectly, defense spending supports nearly 3 million jobs in the region.

But the resulting economic hardship to the region – however keenly felt by those of us who sympathize with and hope to see its citizens spared – cannot and will not be given the greatest weight by the administration and the military professionals who must make the wrenching decisions sequester will require.

Just as an earlier Congress found it necessary to create the Base Realignment and Closure process - BRAC - to override parochial interests to reduce the costs of military bases no longer needed, the test of what should be spared from the sequester must be their value as unique national security assets.

The administration should leave the cutting to the military professionals who have the responsibility and judgment to know and set priorities for keeping America safe by keeping America strong. They will know how important it is to not sacrifice national security to short term domestic political pressure. They will understand that to protect America, we must protect the irreplaceable lands and facilities of the Southwest.

Kenneally, a retired major general, is the executive director of the Southwest Defense Alliance. Wilson, a former U.S. Senator and Governor of California, served for eight years on the Senate Armed Services Committee and for seven years as a member of the Defense Policy Board advising the Secretary of Defense. He is a member of the Southern California Leadership Council, a non-partisan public policy partnership, and honorary chairman of the Southwest Defense Alliance.