The Department of Defense is charged with protecting the American people and defending our nation and our allies. Our Armed Forces are operating in a strategic environment that continues to evolve as geopolitical trends shift and the world becomes increasingly interconnected. Yet chief among the myriad of challenges we face in the 21st century is our economic security.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 is driving a focused budgetary review throughout the federal government, including the Department of Defense. Next week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will testify before the House Armed Services Committee, where he is expected to discuss the Pentagon's budget and describe elements of the department's upcoming strategy review. As lawmakers look for savings, they must also reevaluate our national security priorities, the way America conducts its business in the world and the role the military plays in accomplishing those objectives.
As the super committee reconvenes, prominent conservatives are working to take defense spending -- more than 50 percent of discretionary spending -- off the table, and calling into question the debt deal their colleagues negotiated. Basic facts suggest a different approach. Measures enacted thus far have only slowed the rate of growth in the defense budget, while experts point to two wars financed entirely by government borrowing. In order to maintain our security, grow the economy and reduce the deficit, we must start with an honest assessment of the capabilities we both need and can afford -- a strategy to deal with the world we actually face and a willingness to cut what we don't need.
With a debt deal going to a vote, the conversation has shifted to what this agreement will mean for the Pentagon. Experts from both sides of the aisle have long argued that defense spending has to be part of any serious proposal aimed at reducing the deficit. The current proposal splits defense reductions into two phases, the second of which will ideally be based off of recommendations from a joint bipartisan committee. As additional details emerge, NSN has asked several experts to explain the implications for defense spending and American strategy.
Spending is the watchword in Washington today. Last night President Obama addressed the nation on his plans for reducing the deficit, and today incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he explained the effects of budgetary constraints on the military. This involves facing the reality that defense spending, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has contributed to the deficit and should play a role in fixing the shortfall. It is also the case that there are right and wrong ways to reform defense spending. Reductions must be tied to a larger strategic vision that chooses what missions and capabilities are necessary to ensure American security. A “hollow” force is a danger if reductions come thoughtlessly or without matching capabilities to foreign policy appetites. In fact, changes in defense spending under President Obama have only slowed the rate of growth in the defense budgets, but have not yet produced any actual cuts. The military does face readiness issues, which can be traced back to wars fought with inadequate support under the Bush administration.