An independent panel appointed by the Pentagon and Congress said Thursday that President Obama's strategy for sizing the armed services is too weak for today's global threats.
The National Defense Panel called on the president to dump a major section of his 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and write a broader strategy that requires the military to fight on multiple fronts at once.
It also said the shrinking U.S. armed forces, which are being downsized to fit that strategy and budget cuts, is a "serious strategic misstep on the part of the United States." The forces' numbers spelled out in Mr. Obama's QDR are "inadequate given the future strategic and operational environment."
The warning comes as Mr. Obama is under criticism from many Republicans and some Democrats for his standoff policy toward Syria and his limited response to a June offensive by an al Qaeda offshoot that has gobbled up swaths of territory in Iraq.
Congress authorized the panel of outside experts to review the QDR, a strategy for shaping the active and reserve force. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel appointed the co-chairmen: former Defense Secretary William Perry, who served under President Bill Clinton, and retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, who ran U.S. Central Command during the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.
The panel's report said the past several years of budget cuts and mandated reduction in personnel and weapons have stirred deep unease among allies who would count on the U.S. in a crisis.
"Not only have they caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness and both present and future capabilities, they have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve," the report said. "Unless reversed, these shortfalls will lead to a high-risk force in the near future. That in turn will lead to an America that is not only less secure but also far less prosperous. In this sense, these cuts are ultimately self-defeating."
It calls the defense cuts "dangerous" as "global threats and challenges are rising." The experts point to China's and Russia's new territorial claims, nuclear proliferation by Iran and North Korea and al Qaeda's rapid rise in Iraq.
The panel knocks Mr. Obama's QDR for reducing the military's global mission from being able to defeat two enemies nearly simultaneously to defeating one and denying the objectives of a second. The report calls on Mr. Obama to expand this overriding mission statement.
"The international security environment has deteriorated since then," the report said of the QDR, which was released earlier this year. "In the current threat environment, America could plausibly be called upon to deter or fight in any number of regions in overlapping time frames."
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the independent review shows the QDR was more concerned with justifying budget cuts than meeting global security needs.
"It is the same conclusion many Americans have already reached," Mr. McKeon said. "There is a cost when America does not lead, and there are consequences when America disengages. What the president fails to understand — which the report points out — is that a strong military underwrites all other tools our nation has for global influence."
On the two-war requirement, the panel said: "We find the logic of the two-war construct to be as powerful as ever and note that the force sizing construct in the 2014 QDR strives to stay within the two-war tradition while using different language. But given the worsening threat environment, we believe a more expansive force sizing construct — one that is different from the two-war construct but no less strong — is appropriate."
It proposes a new overriding strategy requirement that talks of taking on and stopping adversaries in multiple theaters of war.
The experts said both the Navy and the Air Force are too small.
"The Air Force now fields the smallest and oldest force of combat aircraft in its history yet needs a global surveillance and strike force able to rapidly deploy to theaters of operation to deter, defeat or punish multiple aggressors simultaneously," the review group said.
Cuts in the numbers of Army soldiers "go too far," the panel said.
The panel included national security experts who were in the Pentagon when some of the Obama administration budget decisions were being made. They include retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, former Joint Chiefs vice chairman, and Michele Flournoy, who served as under secretary of defense for policy until 2012.