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Defense changes

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s call to reshape the nation’s defenses to meet modern threats within limits imposed by budgetary constraints has to be considered in light of the growing threat from Asia and a lessening of tensions between the United States and Russia in a post-Cold War world.

Secretary Hagel warned that the hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts imposed by the 2011 budget in addition to sequestration reductions over 10 years will require a major re-examination of the nation’s military structure, including manpower levels, weapons systems and personnel costs and benefits.

“We need to challenge all past assumptions, and we need to put everything on the table,” he said, noting that changes will involve “not just tweaking or chipping away at existing structures and practices but, where necessary, fashioning entirely new ones that are better suited to 21st century realities and challenges.”

Secretary Hagel did not make any specific suggestions on cuts or shifts in spending, but sweeping cuts will require the Pentagon to review weapons and procurement programs along with manpower needs and the nation’s overall defense strategy.

The New York Times noted that Mr. Hagel’s comments to transform the Pentagon “to meet fiscal and security challenges echoed a carefully worded case offered by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld” the day before al-Qaida attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

And Mr. Hagel’s call for sweeping changes came the same day the Pentagon dispatched a missile defense shield to Guam to protect against threats from North Korea, which escalated its hostile rhetoric with renewed talk of a nuclear strike and a “merciless operation” against the United States. The United States has already sent bombers, stealth fighters and ships to the region. Secretary Hagel called Pyongyang’s rhetoric a real and clear danger to the Untied States and our Asia-Pacific allies.

He has also ordered a buildup of antimissile defense in Alaska and approved moving ahead with environmental studies for a third missile interceptor site to deter against North Korean and Iranian aggression. Fort Drum has been mentioned as a possible location for the missile site.

Also Wednesday, an international group of political, military and security experts called for the United States and Russia to abandon their Cold War attitudes that continue to maintain massive nuclear arsenals on ready-to-launch status. The report said that “outdated Cold-War era security concepts and their associated weapons and military postures ... continue as if the Berlin Wall had never fallen.” The report suggested that Russia and the United States along with its allies phase in a 50 percent reduction in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe.

Secretary Hagel said America has “too many global interests at stake” to engage in retrenchment that could lead to another power filling the vacuum.

But fiscal limitations call for a restructuring and redirecting America’s military to meet today’s emerging challenges presented by regional conflicts, terrorism and cyberthreats rather than the threats of 50 years ago.

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