National Security Network

Experts Respond: How the Deal Affects Defense

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Report 1 August 2011

Military Military Defense Budget defense spending

Editors' Note: The NSN Daily Update will be on hiatus for the rest of the summer in order to focus on extended research and writing projects. NSN wishes everyone an enjoyable remainder of the summer and will resume the normal Daily Update schedule this Fall.

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.

Experts Respond:

 "The budget agreement continues a gradual process of bringing down the defense budget.  We are clearly in a build-down in defense. But it pushes the really hard planning for this build-down to the right, into future years and future battles. So far, the actual defense budget reductions are small and not hard to handle in the Pentagon."

- Gordon Adams, Distinguished Fellow, Stimson Center; former Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget

"The prospect of defense cuts ought to concentrate some minds in Washington. To avoid reductions that are arbitrary and capricious requires clarity of strategic purpose. The really big question is not how many billions should come out of the Pentagon's bloated budget. No, the big question is this one:  given our straitened economic circumstances and in light of the monumental catastrophes of the past decade, what is America's proper role in the world? Simply reciting cliches about ‘global leadership' won't cut it. The time to make hard choices is at hand."

- Andrew Bacevich, Professor, Boston University

 "The proposed deal does not go far enough in reining in a military budget which in real terms is higher than at any time since World War II. In fact, the total reductions over the next decade are likely to be less than the $400 billion proposed by President Obama."

- Lawrence Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress; former Assistant Secretary of Defense

"If a congressional commission includes a serious, bipartisan review of defense strategy and expenditures, and abides by its recommendations, this is an opportunity for all sides to show they're serious about constructing an American defense strategy that is effective and affordable for our times."

- Heather Hurlburt, Executive Director, National Security Network

"In the short-term, the budget deal crafted by the president and the congressional leadership gives the Pentagon virtually a free ride. It reduces projected Pentagon spending by less than one percent.  These proposed reductions are further diluted by the fact that they will be counted against a broad ‘security' category that will include the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies beyond the Pentagon proper. These miniscule reductions are unacceptable.  Real cuts in Pentagon expenditures can be imposed without reducing our security. Any longer-term deal should reflect this reality."

- William Hartung, Director, Arms Security Project, Center for International Policy