Following his long-awaited announcement detailing a proposal for massive defense spending cuts and an overall reduction in military personnel, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed his list of the risks and the most pressing threats to America's security.
"This is going to be tough," Panetta told reporters Thursday. "Obviously it will be a smaller force, and when you have a smaller force there are risks associated with that in terms of our capability to respond."
So in the near future where will the world’s strongest military need to respond?
Panetta says there's a long list of potential problems. Among his top concerns, he says, are: the ongoing war in Afghanistan; the threat of terrorism; the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan; Yemen; a nuclear-capable Iran; a nuclear-capable North Korea; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; turmoil in the Middle East, and the potential for cyber warfare.
The U.S. military's ground forces, specifically the Army and Marines are slated to lose nearly 100,000 troops. The Army will shrink to 490,000 troops down from the current 562,000. The Marines will shrink by 20,000, down to 182,000.
But retired Maj. Gen. Bob Scales says the Pentagon is ignoring the lessons of history.
"Every administration since the fall of the Berlin wall has been trying to cut heavy forces," Scales said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday. "So should we ever face a conventional enemy again - and we will - the chances are very high that we'll march off to war with a force that isn’t heavy enough to fight sustained land combat."
The Pentagon says its new emphasis will be on smaller more nimble Special Operations forces, like the Navy SEALs who carried out the Usama bin Laden raid last year and a daring hostage rescue in Somalia this week, the latter carried out as the president and Defense Department prepared to announce the new cuts.
Among those threats on the horizon, Panetta did not mention China, despite the fact that much of the new military strategy is focused on an increased force presence in the Asia Pacific region. U.S. officials have watched closely as China rapidly grows its own military. In the past year, it managed to test fly a stealth fighter jet and launch its first aircraft carrier.
Even so, mentioning China as a threat would be a mistake. Not only is the U.S. military shifting away from an ability to fight a land war in Asia, it also maintains a very fragile military relationship with China, often soured by U.S. weapons sales to Taiwan.
If one thing is for certain in the Pentagon, it's uncertainly. As Panetta's predecessor, Robert Gates, often said, the Pentagon has a consistent record in predicting wars. “We have never once gotten it right.”