The Cable

McKeon: Defense budgets must go up, not down

The incoming head of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he will use his new perch to push for increases in defense spending -- beyond what the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are calling for.

McKeon, speaking at a policy conference organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative think tank, said that while he supports Gates' drive to find $100 billion in efficiencies within the defense budget, he is worried that, once the defense secretary identifies possible cuts, deficit-minded officials and lawmakers will seek to take that money away from the Pentagon.

"I am extremely concerned that no matter what the intentions of Secretary Gates may be, the administration and some in Congress will not allow the secretary to keep the savings identified in his efficiencies initiative," McKeon said. "Sustaining growth for the Department of Defense requires leadership from the White House and the Office of Management and Budget. Once savings from this efficiencies initiative are identified, what's to stop them from taking this money, too?"

In fact, the two co-chairs of the president's Debt Commission proposed last week to divert this money away from the defense budget. They said the $100 billion Gates is looking to save should be applied directly to the deficit, and also proposed other drastic cuts in defense programs and entitlements as part of the overall effort to solve the nation's fiscal problems.

As far as Gates is concerned, his cost-saving measures are not meant to enable overall cuts in the defense budget. He is seeking to protect 1 percent real growth in the budget, which has more than doubled -- from just over $300 billion in 2001 to almost $700 billion for fiscal 2010 -- when the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taken into account.

But McKeon said that even 1 percent real growth going forward is not good enough.

"One percent real growth in the defense budget over the next five years is a net cut for investment and procurement accounts. A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline.  It will undermine our ability to project power, strengthen our adversaries and weaken our alliances," McKeon said.

He pointed to the report of an independent panel created by Congress to respond to Gates' Quadrennial Defense Review led by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary William Perry to support his argument. That panel recommended significant new investments in naval power and ever increasing defense budgets in the future.

"Let me put this in the simplest terms possible: cutting defense spending amidst two wars is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans," McKeon said.

In a roundtable discussion with reporters following his remarks, McKeon said he did not expect the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, which is now before the Senate, to be passed this year.

"For the first time in 40 years, we may not have a defense authorization bill passed," he said. "We need to get it done before the appropriations bill gets done so we can maintain relevance."

He also maintained his opposition to including a measure in the defense bill that would repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military, which is currently supported by the Democratic leadership.

"Whether it be the hate crimes legislation, immigration, or don't ask don't tell, the defense bill has been used as a vehicle to divide instead of unite the Congress," McKeon said. "This must end today."

The Cable

U.S. and India take their relationship beyond South Asia

President Obama's 10-day trip to Asia kicked off with a three-day stay in India - and that's no accident. The administration has been expanding its cooperation with India on a range of issues outside the South Asian subcontinent since this spring, when it began a high-level dialogue led by the State Department regarding how the two countries could collaborate in East Asia.

The effort, led jointly by the State Department's East Asia and Pacific (EAP) and South and Central Asia (SCA) affairs bureaus, has involved two high-level meetings between U.S. and Indian officials. The first meeting, held in New Delhi last spring, was led by Assistant Secretary of State for EAP Kurt Campbell but also included Derek Chollet, deputy director for policy planning, and SCA's Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Michael Owens. The second round, which took place in Washington in September, also included Assistant Secretary of State for SCA Robert Blake. Defense Department and National Security Council officials participated as well.

The U.S.-India dialogue on East Asia is the first of a series of new consultations between the United States and India. Two State Department officials tell The Cable that similarly structured dialogues are planned for coordinating U.S. and Indian policy on Afghanistan, Africa, and elsewhere. But the East Asia-focused dialogue is the first and the only one that has had formal meetings so far.

"One of the reasons the president went to India is to consecrate this notion of India as a global power," one State Department official said. "Asia is one of the key areas where we see India increasing its role and its influence and its engagements overall."

Along with Obama's endorsement of India for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, the joint statement issued by Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh codified the idea that the U.S.-India relationship was expanding to tackle global problems, specifically those in East Asia.

"The two leaders agreed to deepen existing regular strategic consultations on developments in East Asia, and decided to expand and intensify their strategic consultations to cover regional and global issues of mutual interest, including Central and West Asia," the statement read.

The officials made it clear that the U.S.-India dialogue on East Asia is not meant solely to devise strategies for combating China's political and military rise.

"Both the Indians and the U.S. would 100 percent agree with the idea that the most important thing we have to do is we have to get China right. But this is not some conspiracy theory on containing China," one official said. But he did say that "India's role can become very important when it comes to managing a variety of shifts that are taking place in the Asia-Pacific."

So far, the discussions have centered around how the U.S. and Indian approach to regional organizations like the East Asia Summit, and how the two countries can cooperate on issues like climate change, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response.

Many East Asia experts, however, suspect that the dialogue's primary purpose is ultimately related to China's growing power.

"It all comes down to China," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. "China is right now an absolute ascendant power, even to the point where people are over projecting China's rise. If you can deny China its two ocean strategy, you have the potential to enlarge the chess pieces."

The move is part of an overall administration effort to develop a more cohesive U.S. strategy in Asia, Cronin said.

"What the State Department has done is break down the previous geographical barrier that was raised between East and South Asia," said Cronin. "India just gives you so much more maneuvering room. State is trying to take advantage of that, deliberately so and wisely so."

He warned that the Indians might not be able to move toward such seamless coordination as quickly as those in the United States might want them to.

"There's a massive hedging going on in Asia both for and against the U.S. and China. The Indians don't want to be drawn into a tight alignment against China. They want to play it both ways," Cronin said.

Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that the dialogue represented "a significant change" in the countries' cooperation in East Asia.

"India not only wants to be part of that game, they want to make sure the United States is. The United States is very interested in having India being part of that game," she said. "This is a shift of emphasis for both countries."