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Gates, Mullen Echo Leaders of Debt Commissions: America's Fiscal Challenge is a Matter of Arithmetic

When Admiral Michael Mullen was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a reporter asked him to name the most significant threat to U.S. national security. His response? Our debt. On Monday, speaking to a panel of former members of Congress, Admiral Mullen elaborated on the dire implications of America’s fiscal path to our national security:

“A nation with our current levels of unsustainable debt, being this far out of fiscal balance, cannot hope to sustain for very long its superiority from a military perspective, or its influence in world affairs. That was not intended as a partisan statement then, and it has no partisan meaning now. I was using our growing and unsustainable debt as shorthand for the abundant disorder in our fiscal house, brought upon us, by ourselves, by our own doing. While much has been said since then, little has changed. In fact, I would argue that the mere passage of time, combined with a lack of solutions in the interim, has compounded the problem, as our debt increases seemingly exponentially, and solutions that require compromise seem a figment of the imagination.”

Also addressing the panel was former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who starkly depicted the risks ahead:

“At some point, financial insolvency at home will turn into strategic insolvency abroad. We are not there yet, but the longer the United States government delays in dealing with the country’s long term fiscal problems will only make dealing with them later more painful and potentially more risky in terms of national security. We will get a preview of how damaging this scenario could be at the end of December, when hundreds of billions of dollars of mindless, across-the-board spending cuts will take effect for 2013.”

Monday’s event, the second in a series of four, is part of a new initiative, Strengthening of America?Our Children’s Future, a joint effort of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), The Concord Coalition, and the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC), co-chaired by former Senators Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Pete Domenici (R-NM).