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Toward a Responsible Defense Budget

June 30, 2010

In a recent article in The Daily Caller, Chet Nagle claims that the Obama administration “plans to eliminate over a trillion defense dollars in the next ten years.” Unfortunately, he has no basis for saying so.

The Department of Defense is one of the only government agencies slated to receive real increases in spending over the next few years, according to the administration’s budget submissions. Nagle pretends that the cuts proposed in a recent report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force have the administration’s support. This is not the case.

As a member of the task force, I actually wish Nagle were right. Even modest cuts to military spending — which has grown by 86 percent since 1998 — would show that the administration had reconsidered the approach to U.S. military power that has prevailed in Washington since the end of the Cold War. But like the last one, this administration seems to believe that U.S. troops should answer every 911 call, with American taxpayers footing the bill.

Perhaps Nagle was misled by a series of speeches by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in which Gates questioned the need for expeditionary fighting vehicles when we haven’t landed Marines on a hostile shore since the Inchon landing in September 1950. Perhaps Nagle confused Gates’ pledge to eliminate waste and inefficiency within the Pentagon’s budget as a sign that the secretary was serious about cutting military spending. Far from it; Gates is mainly shifting spending within the Pentagon’s budget. The bottom-line figure continues to grow.

Equally misguided is Nagle’s claim that eliminating the bomber leg of the nuclear triad is a step toward unilateral disarmament. This proposal finds support in a report published by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, not the province of peaceniks and anti-nuclear activists. A separate article published by the chief of the Air Force Strategic Plans and Policy Division and two Air Force War College professors concluded that as few as 311 nuclear warheads would constitute an effective and credible deterrent. The U.S. simply does not need the same nuclear force structure — bombers, missiles, and submarines — that it had during the height of the Cold War.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Caller website on June 30, 2010. The rest can be read here.


Christopher Preble is the director of Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute and a member of the Sustainable Defense Task Force.

Posted by coalition at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

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 04:01 PM | Comments (0)