The agreement that ended the sixteen day government shutdown set the stage for yet another round of budget fights, renewing the importance of smartly drawing down Pentagon spending as more than a decade of war nears its end. The agreement creates a budget commission that will offer long-term budget plans in mid-December. As Congress gears up for the coming debate, there is little doubt that a substantial Pentagon drawdown will continue. The question remains how to do so safely while preserving – and in some cases increasing – combat power to meet future national security needs. Fortunately, on this score, experts and military leaders continue to offer detailed recommendations on a way forward that make sizable savings possible.
Managing the Pentagon’s drawdown towards a post-war military requires strategic choices, smart tradeoffs. Todd Harrison of CSBA explains, “Defense strategy is ultimately about making choices, which in peacetime often manifest themselves as decisions about the defense budget. As the budget gets squeezed, these choices become more difficult, and the current strategy may have to be modified or even abandoned. Yet without resource constraints, strategy would be unnecessary — the military could simply throw more money at all its problems. Limited resources thus create the need for strategy, and as resources become more constrained, strategy becomes more important.” [Todd Harrison, 9/29/13]
Bipartisan expert consensus deepens that the Pentagon should remain on the table for reductions while protecting military power, offers more detail on way forward:
Former service chiefs give detailed plan for sequester-sized reductions while increasing key capabilities: A recent report by the Stimson Center adds to the longstanding expert consensus on reducing Pentagon spending. Signed by 17 military leaders and security experts, including former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and former Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz, the report makes 27 recommendations to implement sequester-sized reductions, primarily from two areas: “$22.4 billion in management reforms, achieved by cutting excess military and civilian personnel in headquarters and defense agencies, cutting back on centralized training, reforming military retirement and health benefits in a way that honors our sacred obligation to those who serve, and eliminating funding for unnecessary commissaries and exchanges…$21.4 billion in changes to force structure, resulting from cutting active forces best suited for protracted wars and some nuclear forces while maintaining robust space, air, naval and special operations forces, re-emphasizing the cost-effective strategic depth provided by the Guard and Reserve, and expanding investment in cyber capabilities.” [Stimson Center, 9/23/13]
The report additionally protects areas of investments for capabilities to address future threats, including the Long-Range Strike Bomber, Special Forces, and increased buys of destroyers and cyber capabilities. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead and former Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz have both independently published articles outlining how the report’s recommendations can make sequester-level reeducations can be made while increasing key military capabilities.
Reducing unneeded nuclear weapons makes greater room for investing in military power to address future threats, deficit reduction: Ben Friedman, Christopher Preble and Matt Fay of the CATO Institute explain, “U.S. security does not require nearly 1,600 nuclear weapons deployed on a triad of systems—bombers, land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs)—to deliver them. A smaller arsenal deployed entirely on submarines would save roughly $20 billion annually while deterring attacks on the United States and its allies…No U.S. adversary has the capability to destroy all U.S. ballistic submarines…and there would be time to adjust if that changed. Nuclear weapons are essentially irrelevant in actual U.S. wars, which are against insurgents and weak states without nuclear arsenals. Nuclear threats have a bigger role in hypothetical U.S. wars with nuclear-armed powers. But cases where the success of deterrence hinges on the U.S. capability to destroy enemy nuclear forces are far-fetched. In any case, U.S. submarines and conventional forces can destroy those forces. Even hawkish policies do not require a triad.” [Ben Friedman, Christopher Preble and Matt Fay, 9/24/13]
Cutting Pentagon waste generates savings without impacting combat power but requires Congressional leadership and new ideas. Michael O’Hanlon and Kay Bailey Hutchison of the Brookings Institution explain, “tens of billions can undoubtedly be saved through smart economies and business practices — without cutting muscle or breaking faith with the men and women in uniform. The administration and Congress should pursue a two-pronged effort– revitalizing the Base Realignment and Closure (‘BRAC’) process while convening a similar, but new, Overhead Realignment and Closure Commission (‘ORAC’) to make the Defense Department a less wasteful organization. We could begin with base closings. This process worked reasonably well for four rounds — as the Cold War ended and then into the 1990s….Another round, done right, could yield eventual savings of $2 billion to $3 billion a year.”
O’Hanlon and Hutchison’s ORAC proposal is especially notable because it would give Congress a leadership role in making efficiency reduction inside the Department of Defense that the Pentagon has difficulty implementing itself. [Michael O’Hanlon and Kay Bailey Hutchison, 10/14/13]