Tag: Defending Defense

Gates’s Cuts that Aren’t

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is poised to axe or significantly restructure a number of high-profile weapons platforms, and otherwise rein in the Pentagon’s budget. The reports present these initiatives as intended to preempt greater scrutiny of the military’s budget by Congress.

The cuts will be announced later today, but it seems pretty clear that Gates will call for terminating the unnecessary Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV), a Marine Corps program that is more than 176 percent over its original per-vehicle cost. Unhappily for taxpayers, the Pentagon has already spent $3 billion on the program, which has managed to deliver only prototypes. The Marine Corps’s version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will also be delayed, according to news reports. And the secretary will continue his search for efficiencies in defense, an initiative that even the reliably conservative Washington Examiner finds worthy.

But amidst all the focus on “cuts”, two facts stand out:

1) Gates intends for the efficiencies, if they materialize, to be plowed back into the military’s coffers – not returned to taxpayers or used for reducing the deficit. Pentagon spokesman Jeff Morell told Politico’s Jen DiMascio ”any story which purports that he is going to announce that the services don’t get to keep and invest the savings they’ve made are flat out wrong.”

2) The Pentagon’s base budget, excluding the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is expected to grow in 2012. The FY 2011 base budget calls for spending $549 billion; the Obama administration is expected to request $554 billion for the Pentagon in its FY 2012 budget, which will be released next month. In real, inflation-adjusted dollars, that is a 42 percent increase over the base budget in 2001. When the costs of the wars are factored in, total Pentagon spending has grown 72 percent – again, in real terms – since 2001.

Keep those essential points in mind when you hear the predictable cries from the Defending Defense crowd that Gates is shortchanging the military as it fights two wars. He is doing nothing of the sort.

Indeed, although Gates’s moves are aimed at preempting Congress, members and their staffs aren’t fooled. One Senate aide told DiMascio that despite Gates’s prior cuts, there are still a number of troubled programs drawing billions of taxpayer dollars. “So we can cut,” he said. “We can cut and we can cut big.”

To make “big” cuts in the military’s budget without rethinking its missions would be a mistake. Instead, the Obama administration should be actively soliciting input on ways to reduce the military’s global posture; terminate the open-ended nation-building mission in Afghanistan, and stop planning similar missions in other failed states; and compel wealthy, stable allies to bear the costs and risks of their own defense. Such steps would allow the White House and Congress to responsibly restructure our military based on a realistic assessment of available means and achievable ends, with the savings being returned to U.S. taxpayers.

Deficit Reduction Commission Says Military Spending Can and Must be Cut

President Obama’s Fiscal Commission’s report is out and they have wisely kept military spending on the table. Having not seen the accompanying list of specific cuts, it seems that rather than micromanage DoD’s decisions with respect to which weapons systems to cut or keep, the commissioners have laid down a different marker: find the cuts that make sense, but understand that the business-as-usual of the past decade is over.

The report fixes on a number of spending cuts and reforms that Benjamin Friedman and I call for in the Cato Policy Analysis “Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint” including cuts to the civilian workforce (see recommendation 1.10.4). They also hold fast to the proposition that all spending must be on the table, and reject out of hand the notion that military spending must be held sacrosanct. This is bad news for the “defending defense” crowd.

I am not going to comment on the Commission’s other proposals with respect to taxes, social security, health care, etc.  As for specific military spending cuts, this report is less detailed than the preliminary report issued a few weeks ago by Co-chairs Bowles and Simpson. It is appropriate, however, to task the Department of Defense with identifying additional savings (as they do in recommendation 1.11). Responsible cuts can be made if the Pentagon and the White House adopt a strategy of restraint, one that husbands American resources, focuses on a few core missions vital to U.S. national security, and requires other countries to take primary responsibility for their defense.

The ‘Spectacularly Misnamed Radicals’ Fire Back on Military Spending

Bill Kristol has a plan to help the US military

George F. Will has called neoconservatism “a spectacularly misnamed radicalism” whose adherents are “the most radical people in this town.”  (It is a shame that the Heritage Foundation has fallen so far from its sensible opposition to the neoconservative vision and evidently bought into the neoconservative program in toto.)

Like other radicals, however, they are pretty good at politics, which is clear from reading their latest offering, a talking points document [.pdf] produced by the “Defending Defense” initiative intended to demonstrate that U.S. military spending is not that large and should not be cut.

I have several things to say about the document, but all of the internet sniping and providing adversarial quotes to journalists probably aren’t the best way to adjudicate the debate.  To that end, on behalf of my colleagues I extend the offer of an open, public, live debate to the Defending Defense people:  Let’s debate the security of the United States, the strategy to best protect it, and the resources needed to fund the strategy.  Any time, any place.

The overarching problem in this debate is that the big spenders keep inserting the red herring of defense expenditures as a percentage of GDP into the debate.  This is relevant only as it pertains to their claim that “current levels of defense spending are affordable,” but last time I checked the mere fact that something wouldn’t, in itself, bankrupt the country is not a sufficient conservative justification for a government program.

The logic of basing the military budget on a percentage of GDP would imply that security and economic growth are inversely related.  Of course, the simple fact is that economic growth does not pose a threat to the United States and economic contraction does not make us safer.  During World War II we spent roughly 40 percent of GDP on our military, and given where we were, that seems sensible to this analyst.  But the “given where we were” part of that sentence is doing a lot of work.  Where are we today?  What are the threats we face?  How should we deal with them?  How much would it cost to do so?  Answers to those questions should provide the grounding for our military budget, not the deeply unconservative justification that “it won’t bankrupt us.”

Another point: It might sound pedantic, but many of what they characterize as “myths” can’t be myths.  They might be wrong.  They might be poor analytic points.  But they can’t be “myths.”  To correct just a few of what they call “myths”:

“Pentagon budgets were a “gusher” of new money in the Bush Administration.”
-    A metaphor can’t be a myth.

“The United States should not be ‘the world’s policeman.’”
-    Preferences aren’t myths.

“Defense spending should focus primarily on ‘winning the wars we’re in.’”
-    Again, preferences aren’t myths.

Myths are mistaken empirical claims that people believe, or the stories surrounding mistaken empirical claims that cause people to believe them.  For example, lots of people think President Obama signed the TARP.  That’s a myth.  President Bush did it.  The way the neoconservatives are using the word “myth” in the document is something more like “argument I disagree with.”

But let’s take these “myths” one by one and have a look at the analysis.

1)    “Additional defense spending is unnecessary as the United States already spends more on defense than half the world combined.”

Interestingly, the authors nowhere argue that additional military spending is necessary, although they strongly imply that it is.  In 2005 Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt wanted 5 percent of GDP to go to defense, which today would be roughly $730 billion.  It wasn’t clear whether they wanted to keep the supplementals going with the 5 percent comprising just the base budget, but with the wars we’re already spending roughly $730 billion on the military as it is.  (Also, just a factual correction, the best estimate is that we spend just under what the rest of the world spends combined, not just over.)

The authors also spirit in a normative claim in the first sentence to fend off scrutiny: “No other country in the world has the enduring vital national interests of the United States, and therefore the U.S. military has global reach and responsibilities.”  Given the weight hung around this claim, it would have been good if the authors could have offered even a superficial defense of it.  They did not.

Instead, they move on to observing that using purchasing power parity, Chinese defense spending is closer to $150 billion than the $78 billion that market exchange rates would indicate.  This is solid analysis.  I am glad to see that someone has convinced Heritage president Ed Feulner, a leader of “Defending Defense,” to distance himself from his problematic 2007 judgment that “Beijing’s military spending, in purchasing power parity terms, would be around $450 billion - about what America spends.”  (Maybe he read my blog post correcting him.)

2)    “Pentagon budgets were a ‘gusher’ of new money in the Bush Administration.”

Again, “a gusher” is in the eye of the beholder.  For facts, you should turn to the study authored by my colleagues Ben Friedman and Chris Preble.  There they point out that U.S. military spending has risen by 50 percent over the last 12 years, not including inflation or the wars.  If you include the wars, U.S. military spending has increased by more than 80 percent since 1998.  Military spending constitutes 23 percent of the federal budget.  That’s real money where I come from.

3)    “Cutting waste and excess from the Pentagon budget will provide sufficient funds to make up for shortfalls.”

Depending on whether we change our grand strategy, this is definitely true.  Our foreign policy is insolvent today.  Given our commitments, defense spending is too low, but the commitments are the problem.  We could spend less with fewer commitments and still be safe.

4)    “Current levels of defense spending are unaffordable.”

Even though the rhetoric the authors assemble to knock down this claim isn’t very good, I agree with them.  (I agree based primarily on Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth’s excellent book, which makes a strong case that the United States can afford a massive military budget.)  Big, fabulously wealthy countries like ours can afford to do lots of expensive things, like Medicare Part D or funding a chunk of the defense of Europe, Japan, South Korea, and Israel ourselves.  But it doesn’t mean we should, necessarily.

5)    “The United States should not be ‘the world’s policeman.’”

Again, this is a preference, not a myth.  But the authors’ central defense of the implied claim that we should be the world’s policeman comes in the argument that “the cost of preserving America’s role in the world is far less than would be the cost of having to fight to recover it or, still greater, the cost of losing it altogether.  While many Americans would prefer to see our allies and partners play a larger part in securing the blessings of our common liberty, no president of either political party has backed away from America’s global leadership role —a bipartisan consensus that remains strong evidence that American leadership is still necessary to protect the nation’s vital interests.”

This argument, in turn, is based on an unstated theoretical premise, which is that when America isn’t somewhere, all hell breaks loose, and that when all hell breaks loose, it tends to land on our heads.  The balance of power doesn’t work, we live in a bandwagoning world not a balancing world, and therefore if we aren’t everywhere, chaos will be, and if chaos is everywhere, it’s going to hit us eventually.

I think this is a silly claim, and I also think the theoretical roots of neoconservative foreign-policy thought are underdeveloped, but it would be good if an actual neoconservative could speak for himself about his own theory of international politics rather than allowing others to try to assemble coherent theoretical groundings for his ideas.

6)    “Defense spending should focus primarily on ‘winning the wars we’re in.’”

This might be a surprising area of agreement, but as someone who has long thought that the wars we’re in are dumb (and deeply unconservative), I believe strongly that focusing our defense dollars on winning the wars we’re in is a dumb idea.

Again, though, there’s lots left to discuss, so let’s hope AEI, Heritage, or the Foreign Policy Initiative will agree to a debate.