Although the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction commission has come up short of the 14 votes among its members that it needs to force Congress to vote up-or-down vote on implementing its recommendations, the debate over ways to cut spending will certainly continue. Of particular note is the emerging consensus that military spending cannot be held sacrosanct in the search for savings.
Over at The National Interest Online, I try to shed some light on the actual scale of the cuts proposed by various deficit reduction reports. Kim Holmes and others affiliated with the Defending Defense alliance claim that the cuts are deep, indisciminate, and dangerous. I show that the proposed cuts, even if they were to materialize, would bring U.S. military spending back to 2006 or 2007 levels, and this would still be more than we spent on average during most of the Cold War.
But the more relevant point pertains to why military spending can safely be cut, not merely in Washington’s “slower growth” terms, but in real terms; historically, military spending comes down when our perceptions of threats change.
I predict a similar scenario playing out in the next decade. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close (and that should move more swiftly than currently planned), recent increases in the ground forces could be rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. Additional savings can be realized if the United States were to terminate its outdated deployments in Europe. We could also revisit the role played by U.S. troops in South Korea and Japan. The Pentagon’s civilian workforce could be cut, chiefly through attrition, and save tens of billions of dollars. Finally, tighter scrutiny over the Pentagon’s spending, beginning with an audit, would allow taxpayers to realize additional savings, while ensuring that our men and women in uniform are provided with the highest quality equipment at the lowest possible price.
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