Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned against the costs of cutting the military following wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that had "no obvious peace dividend," even as the Pentagon proceeds with a plan to reduce the military to pre-World War II levels.

"History informs us that allowing our military strength to weaken when coming out of a war is always, always a costly mistake, especially costly like today when there is no obvious peace dividend," Hagel said Tuesday at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs.

Hagel later contrasted the current situation with the end of World War II. "I think by most measurements and any metric that you would apply to the last 65 years, imperfect, problems, issues, haven't solved all the problems in the world, but a pretty good 65 years, not for everybody, no World War III," he said. "I think by any measurement, we have made the world, all of us, with American leadership, working with our friends and allies across the world, pretty remarkable progress on more democracies evolving, developing, more opportunities, more freedoms, imperfect."

The defense secretary complained that the current budget cuts proposed by the Obama administration were worse than Pentagon leaders had expected for this drawdown.

"DOD's leaders had long expected that coming out of the wars, the defense budget would be reduced, and it has been reduced, just like previous wars," he said. "But the scale and the pace of the budget cuts we're experiencing and that we have experienced in recent years have been made far more severe and more abrupt because political gridlock in Washington triggered steep automatic cuts to the president's budget request by way of sequestration, an irresponsible deferral of governing responsibility."

Hagel put a better face on the impending cuts when he outlined the Defense Department budget request in February, a plan that would cut the Army to levels not seen since before the pre-World War II buildup that started in 1940.

"We are repositioning to focus on the strategic challenges and opportunities that will define our future: new technologies, new centers of power, and a world that is growing more volatile, more unpredictable, and in some instances more threatening to the United States," Hagel said at the time.