Gates: 'Serious mistake' to cut defense budget

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday it would be a “serious mistake” to cut the defense budget in the midst of an international standoff with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula.

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Gates made his comments when asked about budget cuts enacted by Congress in 2011. Gates’s successor, Secretary Chuck Hagel, recently outlined a plan for how the Pentagon would cope with the cuts.

“I think that cutting the defense budget in significant ways right now is a serious mistake,” Gates said. “When we’ve cut the budget before at the end of the Cold War, at the end of Vietnam and other times, it’s been because we thought the world was going to be safer place.

“No one can make that case right now. You look at the situation in Ukraine and our relationship with Russia, you look at the tensions between China and Japan in the South China Sea, you look at Iran and North Korea. These guys are operating on the 20th century model of nation states, boundaries matter, strategic interests matter,” he said.

“It’s different than the way the Western Europeans and we look at it,” he added.

Gates argued the pace at which both the Europeans and the United States are cutting their defenses sends a signal that “we are not interested in protecting our global interests.”

Hagel has proposed shrinking the Army to between 440,000 and 450,000 troops, eliminating the A-10 “warthog,” shelving the Cold War-era U2 spy plane and closing more bases.