WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the US military on Wednesday to brace for a new round of belt-tightening as he carries out a sweeping review that could slash the number of generals, pare back civilian workers and stem spiraling costs of new weapons.
But Hagel, in his first major policy speech, also warned that the United States could not allow its current fiscal and budgetary crisis to force it to retreat from its role in the world.
"America does not have the luxury of retrenchment - we have too many global interests at stake, including our security, prosperity and future. If we refuse to lead ... someone will fill the vacuum," he said in remarks prepared for delivery to students at the National Defense University in Washington.
But at the same time, he stressed the limits of military power, saying that most of the world's pressing security challenges have political, economic and cultural components and "do not necessarily lend themselves to being resolved by conventional military strength."
Hagel took the helm at the Pentagon in February as it was struggling with $487 billion in budget cuts over a decade beginning last year. An additional $500 billion in cuts over a decade began March 1 under the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration.