Those defense secretaries oversaw drawdowns in the military budget averaging 34 percent. A comparable decline is likely over the next ten years. The United States overspends on its military, and these resources could be better invested elsewhere, either through tax cuts today or deficit reduction that will ease the burden of taxes on future generations.
Hagel should start by setting the record straight on military spending. The charts make the challenge clear. Non‐war spending has barely declined and will remain well above the post‐Cold War average even if sequestration‐level cuts go into effect. And he should neither back away from his assertion in 2011 that the Pentagon’s budget is “bloated” and “must be pared down” nor withdraw his endorsement of the Simpson‐Bowles deficit‐reduction plan. He should scrutinize Pentagon spending, and invite others to do the same. And he could purchase some goodwill during his confirmation hearings if he promised that the Pentagon will pass an audit.
Knowing what the taxpayers’ spend is a crucial step for any SecDef who wishes to manage the Pentagon, rather than be managed by it. Knowing why we spend it is equally vital. Americans spend far more on our military than other advanced industrial economies—both as a share of GDP and on a per capita basis—largely because policymakers in Washington have assigned the U.S. military the task of defending not just the United States and our interests, but also the territories and interests of others.
If Chuck Hagel intends to implement a responsible drawdown in Pentagon spending, he must champion conservative values of self‐reliance and responsibility among America’s allies. Burden sharing is good; burden shifting is better. If other countries take on full responsibility for defending themselves, they can also do more to secure common interests, reducing the risks for American troops and costs for American taxpayers.