State Dept. warns sequester cuts will devastate diplomatic, security missions

With lawmakers focused on the impact to the Pentagon from impending automatic cuts, a top State Department official warned Tuesday that sequestration would also devastate that department's ongoing national security missions. 

The State Department's steadily growing role in Defense Department-led counterinsurgency and contingency operations worldwide has made the department a de facto national security agency agency, Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said Tuesday.

As a national security agency, the State Department would suffer the same fate as DOD and the intelligence agencies if budget cuts under sequestration go forward, he said during a speech at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

All defense and national security coffers are set to receive a $500-billion, across-the-board cut as part of the sequestration plan, triggered by the failure of the so-called congressional "supercommittee" to agree on $1.2 billion in deficit reduction.

DOD is already staring down a previous $500 billion reduction in spending under the debt-ceiling deal reached between the White House and Capitol Hill last year. That same deal established the supercommittee and implemented the sequestration plan. 

Pentagon leaders, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have railed against the impact of sequestration to the massive defense budget over the past few months. 

However, Shapiro pointed out the fiscal impact to the State Department's national security-centric programs under sequestration would be ten-fold compared to DOD, since State's overall budget is dwarfed by the largess of the Pentagon's coffers.

While easily overlooked as a key national security tool, Shapiro argued the ongoing work in the State Department's political-military affairs shop ultimately prevents "troops from deploying tomorrow."

"We are all on the same team," he added. 

That DOD-State relationship has blossomed in the years during the Iraq war and continues to expand as U.S. military commanders pursue their endgame in Afghanistan.

Aside from supporting the military's Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, State Department political advisers have begun to embed with regional Special Operations commands around the world to assist with counterinsurgency operations in Africa and elsewhere, Shapiro said. 

State Department officials are also coordinating closely with their Pentagon counterparts to develop contingency plans for Syria, if and when Syrian President Bashar Assad is deposed from power.

Shapiro was mum on many of the details regarding the ongoing work on Syria, but did note the State Department's weapons proliferation team has begun to look at plans to contain Syria's chemical and missile stockpiles in the event of Assad's ouster.

That State Department team was heavily involved in controlling and containing the vast arsenal of shoulder-fired missiles in Libya after rebel forces overthrew the government of former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi last March. 

Syrian forces began moving vast stockpiles of chemical weapons out of storage in July, sparking concern in Washington on whether the weapon could be unleashed against rebel forces in the country. 

DOD officials have repeatedly warned the Assad regime that using those weapons against anti-government forces would cross a critical line and potentially trigger a military response by the United States and its allies.