With a comprehensive “grand bargain” agreement on taxes and spending unlikely to succeed in the lame duck session, there is a strong possibility that sequestration will commence on January 2, argue experts David W. Barno, Nora Bensahel, Joel Smith and Jacob Stokes in Countdown to Sequestration: Why American Leaders Could Jump Off the Fiscal Cliff, released today by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

Examining three possible scenarios to address the “fiscal cliff” – i.e., the broad set of tax and spending measures ranging from sequestration to expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts scheduled to kick in by the end of the year – the authors conclude that the fate of sequestration depends on prospects for a broader resolution of the fiscal cliff, where the total dollars at stake are more than nine times larger than the defense sequestration cuts. Lawmakers from both parties might see going off the cliff as an indirect way to reach a broader consensus in 2013 about balancing the nation’s revenues and expenditures.

According to the authors, the prospect of sequestration is one of the most critical and immediate defense issues facing the nation, and they urge U.S. defense officials and the broader defense community to prepare for it. They warn that tremendous uncertainty about the final 2013 defense budget will continue as Congress and the president seek a comprehensive deal on the wide range of fiscal cliff policies.

The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the national security leaders of today and tomorrow.