Defense Cuts: Start Overseas

June 14, 2010

Recent reporting has claimed that the Pentagon is fighting to trim the defense budget, valiantly protecting taxpayer dollars against a wasteful Congress and tackling the ballooning federal deficit.

There are two problems with that claim. For one, the fiscal year 2011 defense budget, which Congress is set to adopt, actually increases spending, though at a slightly reduced rate, which only in Washington would be considered a "cut."

Second, and most critical, the latest Pentagon authorization does nothing to address the cause of U.S. military spending profligacy: overambitious and nonessential objectives overseas.

The truth is that the U.S. no longer has a "defense" budget. The adjective is wrong. Our military forces' size long ago ceased to have any meaningful attachment to the requirements of protecting Americans.

The Pentagon is the conduit for more than a fifth of our federal spending, and it accounts for about 65% of the $583-billion increase in annual discretionary spending since 2001.

But the dirty secret of American defense politics is that we are fairly safe.

We are surrounded by vast seas and friendly neighbors. But our military spending is nearly equal to half the world's, and our allies spend most of the other half. Russia, China, North Korea, Syria and Iran collectively spend about a fourth of what we do on defense, according to statistics compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Even if we cut our military in half, it would still be far bigger than that of any conceivable rival.

Encouragingly, members of President Obama's bipartisan commission on the deficit and debt have said that the military ought to be among the items on the table for possible spending cuts. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Reps. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Walter B. Jones (R-N.C.) and Ron Paul (R- Texas) last month sent a joint letter to the commissioners arguing that the trims to the Pentagon budget should flow from cuts in overseas commitments.

The commissioners should take that advice.

The Cold War is over. While we were defending our allies in Europe and Asia, they got wealthy. The new status quo is that we offer them perpetual security subsidies — and risk being drawn into wars that do not serve our security interests.

This article was first published in the Los Angeles Times June 14, 2010 and can be read here.

Christopher Preble is the Director of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and Benjamin Friedman is a Research Fellow in Defense Homeland Security at the Cato Institute. They are both members of the Sustainable Defense Task Force.

Posted by coalition at June 14, 2010 04:01 PM

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