Curbing “Unwarranted Influence”
Posted by Jacob Stokes
Fellow DA’er Heather Hurlburt has a piece out in the new issue of the journal Democracy entitled, “Peace Is Our Profession.” It reviews James Ledbetter’s “Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex” and William Hartung’s “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.”
In it, she lays out state-of-play on the defense budget conversation:
“The most audacious proposals to cut U.S. government spending, such as Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan announced in early April, pass off reductions in the rate of increase in Pentagon spending as spending cuts. While conservative and center-left budget hawks circulate plans and counterplans to save money on domestic entitlement spending, and debate the value and necessity of spending on everything from Head Start to foreign assistance to family planning, there is simply no serious debate on our military spending. The discussion and promulgation of options is left to a small group of libertarian, left, and left-er critics whose proposals are greeted with resounding silence.”
Then, after brief explanations of the books’ narrative arcs and main themes, Hurlburt looks at the way forward and offers a small but seemingly effective first step:
"U.S. military spending has been cut significantly three times in the last 60 years—after World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War. Each time, these authors suggest, the military-industrial complex has roared back stronger, and fundamental problems of efficiency and effectiveness have not been addressed. What attempts at reform have worked? Can they be repeated?
And perhaps the most important question, which both authors edge right up to but do not quite address: Is it possible to imagine a defense sector that operated differently? And, if so, what would be the policy steps to move toward creating it? Do other countries with technologically advanced weapons industries and militaries succeed in managing this process better?
…The French National Assembly can vote up or down only on the overall military budget, not on specific programs or weapons systems. It is worth noting here that President Obama’s deficit reduction commission floated the idea of a non-partisan commission to make recommendations on 'terminating major weapons systems' that could be accepted by Congress with only an up-or-down vote, like the highly successful base-reduction commission of decades past—a suggestion that has been met with resounding silence from all sides."
Hurlburt is right about that final idea. Before we even discuss changing mission sets and choosing between competing priorities, as Secretary Gates has suggested, we first need to fix our procurement process so that – at the very least – the Pentagon and Congress can work together to build what Pentagon leaders say we need. In that spirit, Lawrence Korb of CAP and I published an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun yesterday calling for a “weapons BRAC." Here’s the basic thesis:
“A similar process should be adopted for weapons systems — we'll call it a ‘weapons BRAC.’ Instituting such a process would produce several benefits. First, it would provide the right incentive for Congress to fund systems that military and national security experts say the country needs, instead of pet projects favored by influential members of Congress.
A weapons BRAC would also increase pressure on defense contractors to provide more accurate cost estimates, meet project deadlines and achieve performance standards, lest they be recommended for termination in the commission's report.”
Read the whole Democracy piece here and the rest of Baltimore Sun op-ed here. Because as Hurlburt writes, “the need for a change – for our economy, for the health of twenty-first century society, and indeed, for the military itself – has never been greater.”
Photo Credit: F-35B, via Lockheed Martin Flickr Account