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May 27, 2010

Increasing Our Security By Cutting Military Spending
Posted by Michael Cohen

This is a guest post from New America Foundation Senior Fellow, Bill Hartung

I agree with Patrick Barry that the emphasis on grounding our security in the strength of our economy is perhaps the most important element of the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy.  As the president puts it in the letter that introduces the document, “Our strategy begins by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins with steps we take at home. We must grow our economy and reduce our deficit.”

But how do we grow our economy and reduce our deficit? A central element of any approach has to be cuts in military spending – not just slower growth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has advocated, but real reductions.

At over $700 billion this year, total military spending rivals Social Security as the largest item in the federal budget. We are spending more than at any time since World War II, yet our principal enemy has no multi-million person army, no air force, no navy, no sophisticated anti-aircraft systems – in short, none of the kinds of weapons our arsenal is best designed to fight against. And of that $700 billion per year, the vast bulk – over $500 billion – goes towards the Pentagon’s base budget, not the wars in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.  A forthcoming report from the Sustainable Defense Task Force  – a group of defense and budget experts convened with the encouragement of Rep. Barney Frank – presents a menu of options for making cuts in the Pentagon budget without undermining our basic security. Look for details within the next two weeks.

There are plenty of savings to be had from eliminating unneeded weapons systems and cutting waste, fraud and abuse, but it is important to note that any substantial reduction in Pentagon spending will have to involve reducing U.S. global commitments. We can’t and shouldn’t continue to structure our forces as if they should be able to go anywhere and do anything. This is directly relevant to the new National Security Strategy. 

As Gordon Adams puts it in an analysis released today by the Budget Insight blog of the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense project: “On the military side, no clear prioritization of missions. As in the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review], the NSS provides no priorities among military missions, but repeats a long shopping list that could drive force structure and budget expectations even higher than they are now.”

As the NSS also notes, there are plenty of ways to engage that don’t involve military force, from diplomacy to development to cooperation in law enforcement and intelligence. There will be many circumstances in which these will be the preferred modes of action, not merely complements to force or the threat of the use of force. We should structure and finance our military accordingly.


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Welcome, Bill.

Budgeting for the Pentagon has degraded into a political effort completely divorced from reality.

There are in fact several realities:

1. The US is not currently threatened by any military force and doesn't need a huge standing military.
2. The ten navy nuclear carrier surface fleets are obsolete and completely vulnerable to advances in technology including cruise missiles, independently targeted ballistic missile warheads, quiet diesel submarines and smart mines.
3. The air force bomber and fighter plane fleets are also obsolete. Any useful missions they might fly can be done better by inexpensive drone aircraft.
3. Military expenditures have been completely protected by congressional proponents, who openly promise to keep expenditures high in their districts and brag about their success in doing so. I saw a John McCain billboard just yesterday in Arizona: McCain, Protecting Arizona's Bases.
4. The availability of a huge force only encourages its use for nefarious purposes as we have witnessed recently.

Robert McNamara had the right idea back in the sixties. Two ideas, actually.

1.PPBS Budgeting or--Program Planning Budgeting System--is the link between the line-item and program budgets and the more complex performance budget. As opposed to the more simple program budget, this decision making tool links the program under consideration to the ways and means of facilitating the program. This is meant to serve as a long-term planning tool so that decision makers are made aware of the future implications of their actions. These are typically most useful in capital projects. The planning portion of the approach seeks to link goals to objects or expected outcomes from specific outputs, which are then sorted into programs that convert inputs to outputs; finally, the budgeting of PPBS helps determine how to fund the program. A leader in the promotion of PPBS was Robert McNamara's use in the United States Government's Department of Defense in the 1960s.

2. Zero-based budgeting is a response to an incremental decision making process whereby the budget of a given fiscal year (FY) is largely decided upon by the existing budget of FY-1. In contrast to incrementalism, the allocation of scarce resources--funding--is determined from a zero-sum accounting method. In government, each function of a department's section proposes certain objectives that relate to some goal the section could achieve if allocated x dollars.

Both of these budgeting systems are designed to base expenditures on some assumed reality and not to simply spend money for the general welfare of corporations and employees. Unfortunately the US political system has degraded below even what we had in the sixties, with the president recently saying that national security is the last thing he thinks about at night and the first thing he thinks of in the morning. Really. he said that.

As for using the State Department, where the motto is Diplomacy In Action, as an effective policy agent, forget it. There is currently an unqualified person as SecState, one who has no experience in diplomacy and whose main impulse is the criticize and threaten other governments. I call it Diplomacy Inaction.

Our fiscal conservatives on the right never found a military expenditure they didn’t like, and the cowards on the left are too afraid of being called weak on security to do anything. That is our very own Write4Life, the lovely and vivacious Maryann Scarangello. Americans rightly support a strong defense. National security is the most important function of government.

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