There is good news and bad news in the debt agreement for defense . The good news is that in the next two fiscal years beginning October 1, 2011, national security accounts—including defense, homeland security, foreign assistance, nuclear weapons programs at the energy department and veterans—will spend $686 and $684 billion. By comparison, the budget request in February from the administration proposed spending $724 billion in such accounts. Also by comparison, in FY 2011, the year we are now ending September 30, 2011, the United States is spending $689 billion.
While this ‘investment” includes the US Coast Guard and infrastructure and cyber protection programs of the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Administration costs, nuclear deterrent programs within the Department of Energy as well as the Department of Defense, it has to be compared to the rest of the US Government. There, we are spending $3 trillion.
Now the bad news and the real bad news. After FY13, which ends September 30, 2013, the next administration will be faced with finding nearly an additional $350 billion in defense and security cuts over the eight years ending in 2021. At that time, if spending planned for this coming year simply stayed the same for another decade, we would have cumulatively spent $6.840 trillion (FY12-21). If the cuts materialize, we will spend about $6.5 trillion, but with no allowance for either inflation or the increased costs of operations and maintenance, health care and benefits for our soldiers. That is the bad news.
If Congress and the administration fail to come to an agreement on the next phase of spending reductions, then fully $500 billion, or half the required sequestration, comes out of defense. Some commentators have been absolutely giddy at such prospects. But $500 billion out of the remaining eight years would put national security spending at six trillion for the decade. That would require cutting tens of thousands of troops or decimate the acquisition accounts. Or return the US military to the “hollow” military of the 1970’s where ships could not steam, planes could not fly, troops were untrained, morale was bad, and the US was in retreat from the world. Remember in the wonderful decade of the 1970s, some 18 nations disappeared behind the totalitarian curtain of the Soviet Union’s empire.
This is the real bad news. And it is punctuated by the complete lack of any security strategy that is to inform those required to protect our security. What security interests are we going to jettison? What allies will we no longer protect? What WMD proliferation threats will we no longer be able to contain?
In short, there is no strategy that tells us we can cut nearly $1 trillion from the national security accounts of the country. While accounting for one-sixth of the nation’s budget, fully fifty percent of the spending cuts come from defense. That certainly gives new meaning to the idea of “balance”!
Some suggest this will be relatively easy. Just withdraw our forces from Korea, for example. Yes and invite an invasion by Pyongyang. The most senior defector from the North told the world last October the prime goal of Kim Jong IL remains to reunify the Korean peninsula. How you ask? Once the US leaves, by force of arms. And to prevent the US from coming back to defend Seoul through the use of nuclear weapons.
Others suggest we eliminate missile defense programs. But what ally and what contingent of US soldiers should we leave unprotected? Do we leave our Persian Gulf allies perfectly vulnerable to Iranian ballistic missiles? Happy to pay $100 for a barrel of oil? Get rid of these defenses and we can see oil go to $150 a barrel again and perhaps even $200. That certainly will help the US economic recovery.
Or we could eliminate more nuclear weapons, right? Well, what country over whose territory extends our nuclear umbrella should we abandon? How many more nuclear weapons states should we invite onto the world stage? How many bandit countries with nuclear weapons such as North Korea, and an aspiring Iran, will be added to our security concerns?
The Constitution explicitly calls us “To Provide for the Common Defense”. We spend, however, more on National Public Radio than we do modernizing our Minuteman missile nuclear deterrent. We annually spend more feeding and caring for wild horses on our public lands than we will this year on a new strategic bomber.
International trade was a few hundreds of billions in the 1960s when John Kennedy assumed office. Just between the US and the rest of the world, it now exceeds $3 trillion. Does anyone believe that our Navy, now near 250 ships compared to nearly 600 during the administration of President Reagan, has “militarized” the oceans—as opposed to protecting international commerce—yet we have many pushing for greater restrictions on the use of space by the United States. How often have we heard the fortune cookie analysis” “Don’t militarize space!”
According to General Martin Dempsey
, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, it would be "extraordinarily difficult and very high risk"
to cut $800 billion from defense spending. General Dempsey accurately points out that "national security didn't cause the debt crisis nor will it solve it.”
This sentiment was underscored by four senior military officers at a HASC Readiness Subcommittee hearing
Wednesday where all four leaders said they are “currently unable to meet all the needs of the military’s regional combatant commanders.”
The Vice Chiefs and the Assistant Commandant all stated on the record that they could not withstand additional, significant defense cuts without fundamentally altering force structure and strategy.
Certainly we should have a debate on the subject before risking such defense cuts. As I have written previously, defense and all national security accounts were slated to increase only by $50 billion from 2009 and 2016. During that period of time, the United States government would increase overall spending by $1.5 trillion annually.
Let me repeat that. Go to the administration’s February budget request. Spending in 2016 reaches $4.467 trillion, compared to 2008 spending of $2.982 trillion. Defense and national security spending accounts for $50 billion of that $1.485 trillion increase, or 1/3rd
of one percent. But to get our fiscal house in order, the new plan is for spending that accounts for less than 1% of projected spending increases gets it in the shorts for fully 50% of all reduced spending.
Looked at another way; since 2009, the US government has spent $10.8 trillion. By 2016, that number is projected to climb by another $16.2 trillion on top of the $10.8 trillion. So eight years, $27 trillion more in spending, of which $10 trillion was to be borrowed. We now are going to borrow $8 trillion. But of the $20 trillion in non-security spending the US government was scheduled to shell out in just the eight years from 2009-16, $1 trillion will be cut. Maybe. Five percent. That is balanced in Washington.
**(Remember none of these numbers include the overseas global war against terrorism or Overseas Contingency Operations which are scheduled to decline in costs $40 billion this coming year and at least some $700 billion over the coming decade).