Tag: American foreign policy

Cut (Really Cut) Military Spending

Today ForeignPolicy.com has a feature article examining possible “Plan B’s for Obama,” with contributions coming from numerous experts. My contribution to the feature is titled “Cut (Really Cut) Military Spending.”

It is time for President Obama and the administration to finally notice the increasing calls—from across the political spectrum—that the Pentagon’s budget should not be off limits when reducing the deficit.  From the Foreign Policy article:

Despite all the hype about Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his cuts of big-ticket military projects, the Pentagon’s $680 billion budget is actually slated to increase in coming years. This is unconscionable at a time when taxpayers are under enormous stress and when the U.S. government must reduce spending across the board. Barack Obama can save big bucks without undermining U.S. security – but only if he refocuses the military on a few, core missions.

The hawks will scream, but America will be just fine. Obama can capitalize on the country’s unique advantages – wide oceans to the east and west, friendly neighbors to the north and south, a dearth of powerful enemies globally, and the wealth to adapt to dangers as they arise – by adopting a grand strategy of restraint. The United States could shed the burden of defending other countries that are able to defend themselves, abandon futile efforts to fix failed states, and focus on those security challenges that pose the greatest threat to America. A strategic shift of this magnitude will not only reduce conflict and make the United States safer, but it will enable Obama to reshape the military to suit this more modest set of objectives, at a price that’s far easier for taxpayers to swallow.

Click here to read the full article

Today’s Other Big Bad Supreme Court Opinion

As Wally points out in his Supreme Court/Kagan roundup, the Court did further damage to principled constitutional interpretation in citing foreign law as support for its holding that life-without-parole (LWOP) sentences are unconstitutional as applied to juveniles committing non-homicide crimes.  As I blogged when we filed a brief in the case, Graham v. Florida, “Cato takes no position on the wisdom of these types of sentences, but when evaluating their constitutionality the Court should only consider American law.”

That is, regardless of the criminological or moral merits of juvenile LWOP sentences, the Court ought not consider non-binding provisions of international human rights treaties, other countries’ laws, or customary international law in its analysis (as it unfortunately has in several death penalty cases).  The Court should leave to the political branches the decision of whether to transform international norms into domestic law and only allow duly ratified international agreements to override domestic law — as I’ve also described in the Cato Supreme Court Review. Reliance on indefinite international norms undermines both the democratic process and the rule of law, casting considerable uncertainty over many U.S. laws.  Although looking to international example is prudent when designing constitutions and drafting legislation, it is simply not relevant to interpreting the nation’s founding document.

There are other problems with Justice Kennedy’s opinion.  For example, apparently the fact that 37 states plus the District of Columbia allow juvenile LWOP sentences does not mean that there is a national consensus.  This is so even though a similar number of states did constitute a consensus against the death penalty for an adult’s rape of a child in Kennedy v. Louisiana (which Roger discussed in the pages of the Supreme Court Review) – even though there the federal government itself had recently passed a law authorizing the death penalty for such an offense!  The point is that the whole idea of “consensus”-based constitutional interpretation is flawed.  As Josh Blackman and I wrote in our Privileges or Immunities Pandora’s Box article:

If the Supreme Court could not properly analyze the extent of the consensus among state laws governing the sentencing of child rapists, an area that any first-year law student could understand with the proper Lexis search, how can we expect judges to understand consensuses on nebulous and polarizing social issues – on which public opinion ebbs and flows – such as the right to health care, the right to education, or reproductive rights?

Moreover, what constitutes a national consensus?  Half the population? Two thirds?  Ninety percent?  To paraphrase Justice Brennan’s quip, why not whatever five duly confirmed justices think?  Should the Court commission its own Gallup Poll?  What standard should the consensus be based on?  How long should it exist?  These are inherently subjective determinations, not reducible to judicially or legislatively manageable standards.

Finally, Eugene Volokh points out the judicial policy-making (the imposition of a judge’s own views) inherent in Justice Stevens’s concurring opinion – likely the senior associate justice’s last pronouncement on the death penalty.  And for more on the case generally, see Lyle Denniston’s write-up at SCOTUSblog.

In short, this is a dog’s breakfast of a case – again, regardless of what one thinks about the underlying criminological/moral issues – and truly an unfortunate day for principled jurisprudence and constitutional limits on power (in Graham’s case, judicial power).

Will the Military Industrial Complex Save American Foreign Policy?

Missing from most of the commentary on the Secretary of Defense’s big defense spending speech yesterday is the fact that the program cuts he proposed are largely a result of freezing the topline – keeping defense spending level (once you adjust for inflation) for the next decade.

For nearly a decade the country has really had two defense budgets – one for imagined conventional wars against states like China, another from nation-building, peacekeeping and counterinsurgency. The first budget requires a small ground force and lots of big platforms operated by the Air Force and Navy. The latter requires much larger ground forces, a few niche capabilities like intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft, and less high technology wonders.

The current American love affair with counterinsurgency has resulted in a gradual shift of dollars from the conventional budget to the unconventional one. We are reversing the old idea that the American way of war is to replace labor with capital, or manpower with technology. We are becoming a land power first.  We have been increasing manpower in the Army and Marines – adding 90,000 new troops – and paying them way more (compensation per service member is up by almost half since 1998). Personnel costs are taking more of the budget.  And for more complex reasons, including health care costs, the operations and maintenance part of the budget – essentially the day to day cost of running the military – has also been growing fast when measured per service member.  (For details on these issues, read this testimony by Stephen Daggett of the Congressional Research Service.)

That was bound to squeeze the other big parts of the defense budget – research, development and procurement of new weapons systems. There is too much future cost in the budget for everything to fit without topline growth, so something had to give. Big weapons programs are where the most give is, if you don’t want to cut manpower.

That conflict was delayed while the budget topline grew, but now that it is flat, it erupts. The manpower intensive military that follows from our current policies is eating into the conventional military that delivers manufactoring jobs across the country and the high-technology dreams of our military leaders.

What will be interesting to see is whether this shift encourages those leaders and their friends on the Hill to take up the arguments that people like me have been making for years: that small wars are mostly dumb wars.  Preparation for these wars didn’t much hurt the military industrial complex before, now it does. 

An additional note: Gates’ criticism of the acquisition process was on the mark. Rather than blaming out of control weapons costs on the kind of contracts we write or crafty contractors, as the President seems to, Gates noted correctly that the trouble is the requirements process – what we want, not how we buy it.

Drug Prohibition’s Role in Mexico’s Violence

Since January 2007 there have been more than 6,800 drug-war related deaths in Mexico, and Mexican drug cartels continue to expand their operations in American cities. Washington’s response has been to expand its prohibitionist efforts with the Mérida Initiative, a U.S.­Mexico anti-drug-trafficking program. Historically, however, prohibitionist policies have had little success in reducing the flow of drugs. Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato’s Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, suggests a new strategy must be tried.

You can view the full event here.

New Podcast: ‘Blood and Treasure and Costs of Foreign Policy’

President Obama has promised to make spending on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more transparent during his term. That’s a step in the right direction, says Christopher A. Preble,  director of foreign policy studies, but have Americans looked at the true cost of the wars the nation is fighting?

In today’s Cato Daily Podcast, Preble examines the price the United States has paid for the past six years of war.

The costs of maintaining a US presence in Iraq through the end of 2011…will continue to be quite substantial. We’re spending on the order of $10 to $12 billion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined each month.…The costs in terms of dollars will continue to be quite high.

Preble is the author of a forthcoming book, The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free, now available for pre-order.