Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress yesterday that the biggest concern to the U.S strategically is averting the return of sequestration next year.

In his first testimony before Congress on the FY2017 DoD budget, Carter praised Congress for passing a budget deal last December that gave the department much-need stability. Having that said that, Carter told the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D) that “the greatest risk we face in DoD is losing that stability this year and having uncertainty and sequester and caps in future years.”

He urged Congress to continue to provide that stability in future years. ”Doing something to jeopardize this stability would concern me deeply,” Carter told the subcommittee. To return to sequestration, Carter said, would risk sustainment of critical investments in future years.

Asked what would happen if Congress does not pass an appropriations bill by October 1, Carter answered in terms of losing the stability Congress has provided with the budget agreement. He said without budget stability, we start to do things inefficiently, begin to shorten contract time (which wastes money) and can't plan for the long term (which hurts the industrial base). Carter also said instability and accompanying funding uncertainty is not fair to the military and their families and is bad for troop morale. Finally, Carter said he is worried how our allies and enemies view budgetary gridlock.

Carter addressed the concern expressed by subcommittee members that the FY2017 budget funding level of $582.7 billion is too constrained to meet US strategic challenges. He reiterated that the budget “meets our needs.” He said the force funded in the budget is the right size and supports the readiness and capabilities to prevail against today's conflicts and builds a force that can meet future threats.

In describing the administration's FY2017 DoD budget request, Carter said the budget agreement set the size of the budget: The department's budget submission focuses on the shape of the budget. Carter emphasized the budget plan changes the shape “in fundamental but carefully considered ways to adjust to a new strategic era, and seize opportunities for the future.”

Carter outlined five strategic challenges in this new strategic era: Russian aggression in Europe; China's rise in the Asia Pacific region; security concerns caused by North Korea and Iran; and continuing the fight against ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and other forms of terrorism.

Carter said the U.S will take a “strong and balanced approach to deter Russian aggression.” In Asia, he said DoD is continuing to rebalance in order to maintain stability in the region. US forces on the Korean Peninsula are ready “to fight tonight” and the U.S. must “deter Iranian aggression and counter Iran's malign influence against our friends and allies in the region,” Carter stressed. In fighting terrorism more broadly and ISIL in particular, Carter emphasized that the US “must and will deal [ISIL] a lasting defeat…in Iraq and Syria, but also where it's metastasizing in the world.”

Successfully meeting these security challenges requires strong congressional support, Carter emphasized. He urged the subcommittee to continue it strong support for the department and to “help make a better world for generations to come.”