National security experts sound alarm on long-term debt

A bipartisan group of prominent national security figures on Tuesday will call on U.S. leaders to reduce the country’s long-term debt, which they consider the greatest threat to the nation’s security.

“As individuals who have served the nation in both international and domestic leadership roles, we continue to believe that our long-term debt is the single greatest threat to our national security,” the group said in a statement, first obtained by The Hill. 

{mosads}The group warns that federal debt is projected to climb to 131 percent of the nation’s GDP over the next 25 years. 

“This debt burden would slow economic growth, reduce income levels, and harm our national security posture,” the statement says. “It would inevitably constrain funding for a strong military and effective diplomacy, and draw resources away from the investments that are essential for our economic strength and leading role among nations.” 

The group, Coalition for Fiscal and National Security, is chaired by retired Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and includes former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, and former National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft. 

“The health of the country, the prosperity we care about, and the security we care about are just inextricably linked … and we keep looking away hoping it will get better, and it gets worse,” said Mullen in an interview with The Hill ahead of the statement’s release. 

“It’s about the debt levels, and the inability to pay our own bills, and if we don’t get our fiscal house in order, it’s going to dramatically affect our security of our country,” he said. 

The group, put together by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, plans to discuss economic and defense reform proposals outlined in its statement at an event in Washington on Wednesday, billed the Fiscal Summit. Also present will be fellow members former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.). 

The group proposes “sensible changes” to entitlement programs, controlling healthcare costs, overhauling the tax system, investing in education and training, and developing new businesses, infrastructure, and research. 

It also recommends “further, smart and fair” immigration reform that would bring more productive young immigrants into the legal workforce. 

“By taking these steps sooner rather than later, we can put our debt on a sustainable course in a gradual and sensible manner, with reforms that need not violate the core principles of either party,” the statement says.  

Mullen said he would leave it up to the American people to decide which presidential candidate could best lead these reforms. 

“You never know what one administration’s going to do versus another. I do think the timing of this is important: one, because it has a chance to register in both campaigns; two … it is such a major issue that just gets worse year after year — the increasing size of the debt, and at some point at time, the American people and the leaders in D.C. are going to have to deal with it,” he said. 

The group also offers recommendations on updating and reprioritizing the U.S.’s defense and foreign policy strategies as Congress is going through its process of marking up defense authorization and appropriations bills. 

It calls for reform of military compensation, retirement benefits and weapons procurement. 

The group also recommends retiring excess or outdated weapons systems, closing excess military bases, reducing the number of civilian employees and civilian contractors, reassessing static deployments of troops and shifting “towards expeditionary deployments and temporary rotations of troops who would remain based at home” instead of abroad.

The Obama administration has long called for some of the same defense reforms, which have been repeatedly rejected by members of Congress. 

“I think at the core of this is courageous leadership that will reach across the aisle and solve some of these problems that the American people have been demanding for some time be solved,” Mullen said. 

The group warns the alternative would be dire. 

“Absent reforms, the growth of these costs will either swell the defense budget unsustainably, or squeeze out other areas of national security spending, leading to a hollowing of the force,” it warns. 

“Today, to be pro-defense must mean being pro-reform. America’s national security budget requires updating and rebalancing in order to sustain our strong military posture and global leadership role.” 

The group released its first statement in 2012 and called long-term debt the nation’s greatest threat. The group on Tuesday will also renew its call for more investment in other national security apparatuses, including the State Department.

“A strong economy and strong national security are tightly linked,” the group said in the statement’s conclusion. 

“As we confront determined and dangerous foes, we can no longer delay the necessary choices. We need leaders who act in the long-term interests of our nation, and are willing to put aside perceptions of short-term political risk in favor of long-term security gains,” it said. 

“We know, having held high office, that this is not easy. We pledge to support leaders, Democrat and Republican, who make the tough choices to improve America’s fiscal and national security.”

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