Opinion

Key SOTU takeaway: The sequester is happening, and it’s going to hit the Navy hard

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Robert O'Brien
Former US Representative to the UN
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      Robert O'Brien

      Robert O’Brien is the partner-in-charge of the Arent Fox Los Angeles office. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and domestic and international arbitration, including intellectual property, entertainment, complex business disputes and election law matters for Fortune 500 corporations, privately held companies and individuals.

      President George W. Bush nominated and the US Senate confirmed Robert as the US Alternate Representative to the 60th session of the United Nations General Assembly, which met in New York 2005-2006. In addition to his other duties as a US delegate, he addressed the General Assembly on the question of Palestine and represented the United States in the General Assembly’s Sixth Committee, which considered the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.
      From 1996 to 1998, Robert was a legal officer with the United Nations Security Council (Compensation Commission) in Geneva, Switzerland, where he led a multinational team of attorneys, loss adjusters and accountants in the government claims (F) section and was responsible for the Secretariat’s review and processing of billions of dollars in claims resulting from Iraq’s 1990-91 invasion and occupation of Kuwait.
      Robert served as a major in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the US Army Reserve. In 1990, he was a judicial extern-clerk to the Honorable J.P. Vukasin Jr. in the Northern District of California.

President Obama’s State of the Union address made it clear that sequestration is coming to the United States Armed Forces. President Obama acknowledged in his speech that “these sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness.” He then attempted to lay the blame for the sequester on Congress, stating, “In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year.”

What the president left out of his speech is that sequestration was his idea. Bob Woodward reported in “The Price of Politics” that Treasury Secretary-nominee Jack Lew and Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors took the proposal for sequestration to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and then it was presented to congressional Republicans. Rather than suggesting a bipartisan approach that would find funds in the bloated federal budget to ensure that our military has the resources needed for its missions, President Obama fell back on campaign rhetoric and demanded a “balanced approach” with “revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share.” Translation: “After having passed the largest tax increase in American history last month, I want more taxes or there goes the military.” There is no chance that House Republicans will agree to further tax hikes.

Already facing massive budget cuts, earlier this month, the U.S. Navy cut its fleet goal from 313 to 303 warships. Official Navy documents released last week show that even with a smaller fleet, the Navy’s operations will be severely hamstrung by sequestration. The following is just a sample of what the president’s plan means to the Navy:

● Attack submarine (SSN) deployments will be significantly curtailed, limiting our ability to track Chinese and Russian nuclear subs.

● Flying hours on deployed carriers in the Middle East will be reduced by 55% and steaming days for the fleet’s ships will be reduced by 22%.

● Western Pacific operations in the most important and contested waters in the world will be reduced by 35%.

● Naval operations in and around South America will be canceled.

● Other than ballistic missile defense, all naval deployments to Europe will be canceled.

● Ballistic missile defense patrols in the Middle East, Atlantic and Mediterranean will be reduced.

● All flying for four of our nine operational aircraft carriers will be canceled in March. It will take 9-12 months to restore normal readiness at 2-3 times the cost.

● All naval exercises will be cut (e.g., MALABAR, CARAT, FOAL Eagle).

● Port visits around the world will be reduced.

● The deployments of the aircraft carriers USS Truman and USS Eisenhower will be extended indefinitely.

● USS Nimitz and USS George H.W. Bush carrier strike groups will not be fully ready for their scheduled 2013 deployments.

● By October 2013, only one carrier strike group will be crisis-ready.

● By October 2013, naval forces in the continental United States will require 9+ months to deploy due to maintenance and training curtailments.

● By mid-2014, only one carrier strike group will be deployed in the Middle East.

The foregoing is what outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta meant when he warned earlier this month that “if sequester goes into effect … we are gonna weaken the United States and make it much more difficult for us to respond to the crises in the world.” As China boldly asserts its claim to entire swaths of the Pacific in the East and South China Seas, as North Korea tests another atomic bomb, as Iran plows full speed ahead with its own nuclear program, as narco-traffickers continue to ply their trade in Latin America, as al-Qaida seeks to expand its bases in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, it is clear that the world remains a dangerous place and that crises affecting our vital interests will continue to arise. The impending diminished role of the United States Navy in this world and its reduced ability to respond to crises can only be good news to our adversaries and a cause for true concern to America’s allies.

Robert C. O’Brien was a senior foreign policy advisor to GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. He is the managing partner of the Los Angeles office of a national law firm and has served as a U.S. Representative to the United Nations. He can be followed on Twitter @robertcobrien.