National Security Network

A Sober Look at Strategy, Savings

Print this page
Report 17 November 2011

Military Military budget control act Defense Budget supercommittee

With a deadline looming for the Super Committee to agree to a deficit reduction plan, and the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act being considered on the Senate floor, questions loom large about the defense budget and what might happen if the Super Committee fails to reach an agreement. The warnings have been dire, and the facts have been loose. Instead, lawmakers and others should consider the actual magnitude of proposed reductions in growth and ask serious questions about strategy, missions and outdated Cold War capabilities. In many cases, the answers point the way toward future savings.

2012 National Defense Authorization Act heads to the Senate floor. Bloomberg reports, "The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is recommending cutting $27 billion from the Pentagon's budget request for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1. The Senate panel yesterday approved the 2012 defense authorization bill, which sets military policy and spending targets for the year. The Senate panel had to approve the bill for a second time this year to apply cuts agreed on as part of the Budget Control Act, which President Barack Obama signed Aug. 2. The Senate panel in June approved a $664.5 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2012, about $6.4 billion less than Obama proposed for the Pentagon and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The committee bill included $18.1 billion for Department of Energy programs under the panel's jurisdiction, for a total of $682.5 billion. The panel yesterday proposed an additional $21 billion in cuts to meet the reductions under the budget control act." [Bloomberg, 11/17/11]

First Super Committee deadline approaching. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments explains, "The Super Committee has until November 23rd to pass a deficit reduction package and should such a package pass, Congress has until December 23rd to vote on it. If by January 15, 2012 Congress has not passed the Super Committee's deficit reduction package totaling at least $1.2 trillion, the sequestration mechanism of the Budget Control Act is triggered.  However, enforcement of sequestration when funding is actually taken out of accounts-does not begin until January 2013." The Budget Control Act has already mandated a reduction of $350 billion over the next 10 years, though that figure changes depending on what baseline is used to calculate the savings. As one Pentagon official explains: "Under the Budget Control Act ... the Department of Defense could expect a budget cut of more than $450 [billion]-$460 billion - using the amount requested in the president's budget for 2012 as the baseline... When the different starting points are taken into account, a reduction of $350 billion from the CBO baseline in January is equivalent to the $460 reduction based upon the president's 2012 request." [CSBA, 11/11. The Hill, 10/9/11]

Sequestration would result in a cut of about 11 percent - a return to FY 2007 levels. CSBA also notes that, "Under sequestration, the base DoD budget would fall to roughly $472 billion in FY 2013.  This would bring the budget back to approximately the same level of funding as FY 2007, adjusting for inflation.  Funding would fall by about 11 percent  in  real  terms  from  FY  2012  to  FY  2013  and  only  grow  with  inflation  for the rest of the decade." Wired's Spencer Ackerman gives some further context. He notes, "[E]ven the hugest cuts imaginable will mean the U.S. spends $4 trillion on the military over 10 years instead of $5 trillion." [CSBA, 11/11. Spencer Ackerman, 11/16/11]

A change in strategy and a departure from Cold War philosophies point the way to smart savings. CSBA's Todd Harrison explains how budgetary constraints should be based on, and complementary to, changes in strategy: "‘In an era of constrained resources you should adapt your strategy to fit within resource constraints... This is a good moment for rethinking the way we're engaging in the world,' including ways allies can share more of the burden." Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon suggests, "To avoid cutting any more muscle than necessary - especially in conventional forces, which do all of the actual fighting - we need to look to nuclear forces as well... A change in philosophy - from equally modernizing each leg in the nuclear triad to accepting a more economical overall capability - would allow us to remain at nuclear parity with Russia and still save money... How much could such cuts in nuclear forces save us? I estimate about $30 billion to $35 billion over the 10-year period being debated by budgeteers. That would approach 10% of the necessary savings in defense; it's real money." [Todd Harrison via AP, 11/16/11. Michael O'Hanlon, 11/16/11]

 "Hair-on-fire rhetoric" is unhelpful. Aviation Week writes, "Some of the hair-on-fire rhetoric of late has been unhelpful. The range of cuts being discussed is still well within the proportions of drawdowns after the ends of the Korean, Vietnam and Cold wars. Even the most drastic cuts will not end the U.S.'s superpower status... Defense is about capabilities and missions, threats and options. It is not simply gross numbers of either dollars or personnel. If Washington is serious about trimming defense expenditures while preserving as much national security as possible-a problem faced in other capitals as well-leaders must realize that across-the-board cuts constitute a short-sighted and dangerous way to draw down."  Instead, the magazine invites lawmakers to consider "the full range of options."

"Does the U.S. need to maintain current troop levels in Europe and South Korea? Are the benefits and burdens of maintaining them being shared appropriately among allies?

What are the national security objectives regarding China? What is the likelihood of the various contingencies for which the U.S. might prepare?

Which particular foreign policy objectives can be achieved more cost-effectively without military force?

When can allies be relied upon to carry out or lead missions? The success of the allied air campaign to support insurgents in Libya is encouraging. It could even lead to smarter procurement decisions in Europe.

Is the intelligence community of 16 organizations appropriately sized? How should the value of the $80 billion spent annually be compared to other defense programs?

Is a nuclear triad of bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarines still necessary?

Can the shifting of missions to unmanned systems be accelerated? Or slowed?

Does the U.S. need all the bases it currently has at home and abroad?

In what areas should competition in the industrial base be preserved?

What can be done to end waste in procurement?"

[Aviation Week, 11/15/11]

What We're Reading

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan announced that U.S. forces would be permitted to remain in Afghanistan if they curtailed certain operations, such as home searches.

Both Italy and Greece confirmed new technocratic governments yesterday in an effort to restore confidence in both the European political community and in the European bond markets.

The release of the Chilcot Inquiry, which investigated the U.K.'s involvement in the Iraq War, will be delayed by six months due to a dispute over the release of relevant secret documents.

Hussein Haqqani, the Pakistani ambassador to Washington, offered to resign in an effort to ease tensions between civilian and military leaders in Pakistan.

The Arab League gave Syrian officials three days to comply with the terms of a brokered cease-fire on anti-government protestors before it authorizes League-wide sanctions against Syria.

IAEA director Yukia Amano proposed establishing a high-level mission in Tehran in response to the findings of the most recent IAEA report on Iran's nuclear program.

Kuwaiti protestors stormed the parliament building, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al Mohammed a-Sabah amid allegations of corruption.

President Obama announced the establishment of a permanent U.S. military base in Australia, expanding U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region and drawing concern from Chinese officials.

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her party may rejoin the political arena after twenty years of repression by the military government.

Kenyan officials have offered to send additional troops to bolster the African Union forces fighting the al Shabab Islamist militants.

U.S. border security uncovered a drug smuggling tunnel under the border with Tijuana, believed to be also used to smuggle illegal aliens, seizing 14 tons of marijuana in the process.

Commentary of the Day

Michael Cohen details how foreign policy issues may be more influential in the 2012 presidential election than in past elections.

Geneive Abdo and Reza Akbari analyze the impact if Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei follows through with his promise to eliminate the position of President of Iran.

Lawrence Korb explains that defense is not now - nor was it ever intended to be - a jobs program.

Mike Huckabee and Norm Coleman argue that foreign aid makes a substantial contribution to U.S. security and prosperity and is part of the Reagan legacy.