Tag: defense budget

Trump’s Crazy Military Budget

The White House unveiled its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2020 and, to the apparent surprise of some military planners, the White House is calling for a top line national defense budget of $750 billion. Pentagon officials had reportedly anticipated a budget of $733 billion, which would have been a 2.4 percent increase over last year’s. They got a 4.7 percent increase instead. According to the supporting documentation, the request is intended to provide the Department of Defense with the resources to “remain the preeminent military power in the world, ensure balances of power in key regions remain in America’s favor, and advance an international order that is the most conducive to U.S. security and prosperity.”

The United States spends more than twice as much on its military as China and Russia combined, and is clearly the world’s “preeminent military power,” but it isn’t obvious that we’re getting the biggest bang for our bucks, nor that this additional spending will be critical to sustaining our edge. More to the point, even with all this “preeminence,” the U.S. military has struggled to bring current conflicts to a satisfactory end. As noted in 2016 by Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “We’re 0 for a lot.” Military historian Andrew Bacevich similarly concludes “having been ‘at war’ for virtually the entire twenty-first century, the United States military is still looking for its first win.” (h/t Steve Walt)

Perhaps it’s not the military’s fault? And perhaps it’s not due to a shortage of funds? I think that the real culprit is that U.S. officials continue to expect the military to solve a host of problems that could be better addressed by other means, or left to be dealt with by other countries.

President Donald Trump has at times shown his frustration, but the reality of his budgets speaks louder than his words. This latest increase comes after he had gone back and forth on what he wanted to spend, initially telling all departments to prepare for a 5 percent cut, then back-tracking and saying the defense budget would not only be exempt from such reductions, but would actually increase. On another occasion, he blurted out on Twitter that it was “crazy” to spend $716 billion on the military, but then reversed himself a week later.

While $750 billion already represents a large increase in the budget, the most notable growth comes from within that request. The White House has asked that $165 billion come from Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). Last year, OCO received $69 billion. While originally intended as a way to fund the supposedly unexpected costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, OCO has become a sort of “slush fund” for the Pentagon to avoid the budget caps put in place by the Budget Control Act (BCA). As my former Cato colleague Caroline Dorminey points out, $750 billion is an “astronomical increase” and well above the BCA cap of $576 billion. Taxpayers for Common Sense observes that OCO’s funding level would make it the second largest government agency, in terms of discretionary spending – behind the Pentagon, of course.

For a person who was elected to the presidency by railing against the foreign policy establishment, proclaiming America’s overly militarized foreign policy a “complete and total disaster,” and, most recently, declaring in his State of the Union address that “great nations do not fight endless wars,” President Trump has once again funded a military geared toward perpetuating the status quo, and remaining embroiled in the endless wars that he’s promised to quit.

I expect that House Democrats, beginning with House Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (D-WA), will cast a skeptical eye toward the administration’s request. I also hope, however, that all Americans will dare ask how all this spending actually makes us safer, and ponder why the many other instruments of American power and influence – including diplomacy (Trump’s budget calls for cutting the State Department by 23 percent), trade, and voluntary cultural exchange – continue to get short shrift from this administration. 

(Thanks to James Knupp for his help with this post)

DEFENSE DOWNLOAD: Week of 11/1

Welcome to the Defense Download! This new round-up is intended to highlight what we at the Cato Institute are keeping tabs on in the world of defense politics every week. The three-to-five trending stories will vary depending on the news cycle, what policymakers are talking about, and will pull from all sides of the political spectrum. If you would like to recieve more frequent updates on what I’m reading, writing, and listening to—you can follow me on Twitter via @CDDorminey

  1. Bolton Calls National Debt ‘Economic Threat’ to US,” Toluse Olorunnipa. Hot off the presses! National Security Advisor John Bolton calls for significant cuts to discretionary spending in order to get the country back on the path of fiscal sustainability. The new trajectory? Bolton, and the President himself, have called for defense spending to be cut or levelled off in the short-term—a radical change from the administration’s previous two budgets. 
  2. In The Shadow of Reagan’s Legacy, Trump Is Failing,” Alexandra Bell. This article talks about why Reagan negotiated the INF treaty that President Trump is trying to dismantle and juxtaposes Reagan’s belief in arms control as a stabilizing force against the current administration’s actions. 
  3. The Nation Needs A 400-Ship Navy,” Thomas Callender. In the interest of showing the true breadth of this field, I’ve included this new report by the Heritage Foundation that calls for an increase over the adminstration’s current 355-ship plan for the Navy. Building to a 400-ship Navy will require $4-6 billion more annually than is already allocated, during a time of competing priorities and sky-high debt (see first article). 
  4. Mattis wants to boost fighter readiness. Here’s how industry could help,” Valerie Insinna. Last month, Secretary Mattis said that he’d like to get fighter readiness up to 80 percent—this would include all the F-35, F-22, F-16, and F/A-18 fighter jets. Readiness has been a rallying cry from the Pentagon for several years, but if Mattis intends to put his money where his mouth is, that could mean fewer dollars for new procurement projects in favor of upgrading and sustaining current platforms. 

DEFENSE DOWNLOAD: Week of 10/25

Welcome to the Defense Download! This new round-up is intended to highlight what we at the Cato Institute are keeping tabs on in the world of defense politics every week. The three-to-five trending stories will vary depending on the news cycle, what policymakers are talking about, and will pull from all sides of the political spectrum. If you would like to recieve more frequent updates on what I’m reading, writing, and listening to—you can follow me on Twitter via @CDDorminey

  1. This week has been all Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), all the time. If you’re wondering about the potential upsides, check out “Trump Is Right to Leave The INF Nuclear Treaty” by Kori Shake. If you’re wondering about the potential downsides, I suggest this overview by the New York Times’ editorial board, “‘Getting Tough’ Over a Missile Pact Could Weaken America.” If you have no idea where to start on this issue, stay tuned for tomorrow’s Cato Daily Podcast featuring Eric Gomez and yours truly. (Or you could always start at Wikipedia.) 
  2. Funding for Overseas Contingency Operations and Its Impact on Defense Spending,” Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Since 2001, a significant portion of the annual defense budget has been hived off to pay for wartime operations. But the CBO found that since 2006, at least $50 billion  of annual wartime funds (70 percent of the total OCO account) actually went to enduring activities (i.e. what it takes to run a military this size during peacetime). That’s a substantial misuse or misallocation of funds. 
  3. What Can 24 Satellites Do for U.S. Missile Defense?,” Thomas Roberts. This is pretty in the weeds, but if you follow missile defense or satellite aquisition then you’ll find this brief interesting. It offers a rebuttal to a 2011 report that claimed space-based missile systems could be incorporated in the existing force structure without incurring large program costs. 
  4. Here’s The Pentagon’s Initial Plan for Creating A Space Force,” Marcus Weisgerber. DefenseOne got ahold of an internal document on how the Pentagon is planning to organize the Space Force. Not many firm details are included—but coupled with Secretary Heather Wilson’s estimate of 13,000 people and $13 billion over the next five years, things seem to be in motion. 
  5. The Ticking Nuclear Budget Time Bomb” Kingston Reif and Mackenzie Eaglen. If you aren’t familiar with the nuclear modernization plan, this is a great place to dive into the issue. The article highlights an issue I’ve personally been working on all year: that the nuclear budget cannot be considered in isolation—it’s going to coincide with modernization plans for the Air Force, Navy, and expansion of the Army. 

Some Context on Pentagon Spending

General David Petraeus and Brookings Fellow Michael O’Hanlon recently took to the Wall Street Journal to assure the American people that, despite sequestration, there is no military readiness crisis. A few days later, Thomas Donnelly and Roger Zakheim published a rebuttal in the National Review claiming that the challenges of too few personnel and aging, overextended equipment induced a “wasting disease.” They alleged that the size of the defense budget was a misleading statistic without context.

So, here’s some context. After a rapid demobilization following World War II, the United States slowly rebuilt its forces to balance against the Soviet Union. Spending remained far above pre-World War II levels for the remainder of the decades-long conflict, and ever since. The Pentagon budget averaged $462 billion from 1948–1990 (in FY2017 dollars), with notable spikes for the Korean War, Vietnam War, and the Reagan build up in the 1980’s (See Figure 1). With the end of the Cold War, we see a fairly steep decline in military spending during the H.W. Bush and Clinton years. In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the reductions of the 90s gave way to much larger Pentagon budgets, as the George W. Bush administration embarked on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense spending during the early years of the Obama administration remained above $750 billion as the president ramped up the war in Afghanistan while working to end the war in Iraq. In constant, 2017 dollars, annual Pentagon spending during Bush 43’s eight years in office averaged $612 billion; under Obama, the average is $675 billion (See Figure 2).

One side-note regarding the grouping by presidential administration: Taken alone, the picture can be misleading, in that Reagan inherited Carter’s final budget, Clinton inherited H.W. Bush’s, etc. And, besides, Congress, not any single president, makes the final decision on what the government spends. It is also true, however, that Congress has typically deferred to presidential preferences, particularly when it comes to military spending. Had Clinton wanted more, he likely would have gotten it (and did, starting in 1999); Obama, meanwhile, could have requested less (and, eventually, did). Those variations within four- or eight-year terms get lost in a graph that lumps all the years together in one fat bar for each president.

With respect to whether current spending levels are far too low, far too high, or somewhere in between, the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and its threat of sequestration tried to rein in spending on both defense and non-defense discretionary spending, but has been only partly successful. Congress has found ways around the defense caps, in part by funneling extra money to the base budget through the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which is exempted under the BCA. And, under the BCA caps revised late last year, estimated military spending would average at least $551 billion from 2017 to 2021 (.pdf, see page 15) – and likely more than that if Congress doesn’t kick its OCO addiction. That’s 28 percent higher than in 2000, and 19 percent higher than the Cold War average.

In short, if there is a readiness gap, it’s not due to lack of funding. The BCA, by itself, has not resulted in significant cuts in military spending. In inflation-adjusted dollars, we spend more today than during the average Cold War year, and more than we spent at the start of the War on Terror. It would appear that we are mostly getting less “bang for our buck” than during previous generations.

What Would It Cost to Eliminate All Risk in the World?

I could not write that headline without chuckling to myself, but this is no laughing matter for some members of Congress. They are asking the Pentagon to describe what it would take to eliminate all risk in the world—or at least all the risks to the United States.

POLITICO’s “Morning Defense” reports that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) is calling on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to return to the practice of submitting to Congress the list of “unfunded requirements” (i.e., all those things that the military services would want if they were unconstrained by budgets—and reality). Then-SecDef Bob Gates eliminated the practice in 2009.

“By not providing an unfunded requirements list,” Hunter wrote in a letter to Hagel, “the department and all of the service chiefs would be suggesting that the budget provides zero risk.”

POLITICO continues:

Hunter’s letter reminded Morning D of a memorable exchange Hunter had with Gates in 2011. Basically, Hunter asked Gates how much money he’d need to reduce U.S. national security risk to zero.

“If I had a trillion dollar budget, I’d still have unfunded requirements. The services would still be able to come up with a list of things they really need,” Gates replied.

Sequestration Will Not Make the United States Less Safe

Will sequestration undermine U.S. national security? Hardly. Today, the Cato Institute released a new infographic putting these minor cuts in perspective.

Military spending will remain at roughly 2006 levels—$603 billion, higher than peak U.S. spending during the Cold War. Meanwhile, we live in a safer world. The Soviet Union has been dead for more than two decades; no other nation, or combination of nations, has emerged since that can pose a comparable threat. We should have a defense budget that reflects this reality.

To be clear, sequestration was no one’s first choice. But the alternative—ever-increasing military spending detached from a legitimate debate over strategy—is worse. We should have had such a debate, one over the roles and missions of the U.S. military, long before this day of reckoning. And politicians could have pursued serious proposals to prudently reduce military spending. Instead, they chose the easy way out, avoiding difficult decisions that would have allowed for smarter cuts.

Until now, there have been few constraints on Washington’s ability to spend what it pleases on the military. As my colleagues Benjamin Friedman and Justin Logan put it, Americans “buy defense like rich people shop, ignoring the balances of costs and benefits.”

Policymakers can’t postpone the tradeoffs forever, especially when the public has grown increasingly weary of foreign entanglements. If forced to choose between higher taxes, less military spending, or lower domestic spending, in order to balance the budget, the military fares least well, with solid pluralities favoring cuts in military spending over cuts in other programs.

Which is why it is so important to get the foreign policy debate right. If we are going to give our military less, we need to think about asking it to do less.

A number of experts have done that, rethinking the military’s purpose, and documenting the savings that would flow from a more modest foreign policy. The sequester is a first step, albeit an imperfect one, that could finally compel policymakers to do the same.

Download and share this infographic on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

The Hagel Hearings: Congressional Politics at Its Worst

The confirmation hearings on Chuck Hagel’s nomination to head the Pentagon are mercifully over. His wobbly performance earned derision among neoconservatives, but he responded as they intended to an interrogation that was all about politics, not policy. 

As I have noted before, Hagel is under fire because he disputed neoconservative nostrums to speak unpleasant truths to the Republican Party. He was an orthodox conservative, including on foreign policy. However, he was an Eisenhower, not a Dubya, Republican: Hagel criticized the debacle in Iraq, urged negotiation to forestall Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and backed reductions in today’s bloated military budget. General turned President Dwight Eisenhower could not have put it better. 

But this enraged a GOP that has turned perpetual war into its most important foreign policy plank. Hence the ludicrous attempt to paint him as an anti-Semite. Only slightly less dishonest was the performance of Hagel’s Republican interlocutors in the Senate, who asked the sort of questions which could not be honestly answered without wrecking the political façade behind which legislators on both sides of the aisle hide. His performance was disappointing, but far more striking is the fact that the uber-hawks who badgered him over every past statement exhibited little interest in exploring the most important challenges facing America. 

Consider the analysis of questions from Rosie Gray and Andrew Kaczynski at Buzzfeed.  They counted 166 questions about Israel—an important ally, but more important than every other ally combined? There were 144 questions about Iran. No one wants Tehran to build nukes, but U.S. intelligence does not believe Iran has an active weapons program and there is no evidence that the Iranian government cannot be deterred, as were Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong. Surely there are options short of war. And is Iran that much more important than Afghanistan, where Americans continue to die, which rated only 20 questions? Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fixated on Iraq, an invasion that should never have been launched, irrespective of the impact of the “surge.” And from which, if he hadn’t noticed, U.S. troops have been withdrawn. 

Nothing else received serious attention at the hearings. Not how to adjust America’s foreign policy to reflect inevitable Pentagon budget cuts, since Washington no longer can afford to police the globe. Not China, including the worrisome possibility of war between Japan and China over worthless islands in the Sea of Japan. Not North Korea and the enduring challenge of dealing with the world’s most malign actor.  

Not Europe, which continues to under-invest in the military while relying on America for its defense. Not Africa, where the U.S. is steadily being drawn into more conflicts. Not Russia, which, despite the difficult bilateral relationship, has been helpful in Afghanistan and Iran. Not Venezuela, where the possible death of Hugo Chavez could open up opportunities for reform and engagement with America.

And the neoconservatives claim to be serious about international issues and military capabilities. 

Chuck Hagel is eminently qualified to be Secretary of Defense. As my colleague Chris Preble has noted, Hagel’s thinking is mainstream and noncontroversial. Obviously, one can disagree with him on particular issues, such as the possibility of nuclear disarmament.  However, the president still will make the ultimate decisions. Hagel will bring a fresh perspective to administration discussions of foreign and military policy. That is reason enough to welcome him to the Pentagon. 

Pages