Cutting national security beyond the $350 billion planned over the next decade would hollow the U.S. military and hurt troop morale, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
In his latest warning, Panetta said large security spending cuts "would have devastating effects" on the Pentagon and State Department.
"Very simply, it results in hollowing out the force," Panetta said during an Aug. 16 event at National Defense University in Washington. "It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world, but more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families."
Panetta said more cuts would imperil the all-volunteer military and "would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have."
A debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress earlier this month mandates about $350 billion in security spending cuts over the next decade. The Pentagon says it can meet that goal.
However, as part of the deal, a bipartisan supercommittee must come up with an additional $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts. If by late November the so-called supercommittee cannot reach a deal, or Congress does not approve it, then automatic "sequestration" cuts will go into effect in January 2013. These cuts would be divided among federal departments. DoD's share would be about $500 billion.
"I don't think you have to choose between our national security and fiscal responsibility," Panetta said. "I want the country to know that we can get this done, but we have to do it in a way that protects our national defense and ... security."
Panetta urged the supercommittee to look at mandatory federal spending.
"When we think about national security, I think we also have to think about the discretionary budget as well, because education plays a role, other elements of the discretionary budget in terms of quality of life in this country play a role in terms of national security," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appeared with Panetta at the event, warned that the State Department might not have funding to help new governments in Africa transition, like it has done in the past.
"We have an opportunity right now in the Middle East and Africa that I'm not sure we're going to be able to meet because we don't have the resources to invest in the democracies in Egypt and Tunisia, to help the transition in Libya, to see what happens in Syria and so much else," Clinton said.