November 29, 2007 | Commentary on Europe
I said in my November 20 article that there is approximately a $40 billion per year shortfall between what the United States is spending on defense and what is needed to fund the modernization programs that are the minimum necessary to sustain America's military at a level necessary to keep our security commitments. Mr. Baker Spring and others at The Heritage Foundation have meticulously documented that shortfall; so have other defense experts, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Congressional Budget Office. Recently, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed that the additional funding is necessary to recapitalize the force. Eliminating the shortfall would bring defense spending up to approximately 4 percent of GDP--which is why The Heritage Foundation is advocating the "4 Percent For Freedom" solution for defense spending.
As I read Mr. Carpenter's response, he does not disagree with our budgetary analysis. To be sure, he attacks the general veracity on defense issues of both the Joint Chiefs and The Heritage Foundation--evidently no one who disagrees with him, in or out of government, is to be trusted--but he does not dispute that our figures are an accurate evaluation of the minimum necessary to modernize America's military. He could hardly do so. The numbers are what they are. Because of systematic underfunding of the military's capital budgets for the last 15 years, all three of the services are entering a crisis period where they must recapitalize their major "platforms"--ships, planes and vehicles--or face technological inferiority. For example, the Navy must buy new DDG-1000 destroyers, ramp up procurement of Virginia-class submarines, and buy large numbers of littoral combat ships and the next-generation cruiser. The Air Force must buy its new superiority fighter, the F-22, as well as Joint Strike Fighters or equivalent aircraft and additionally fund its strategic-airlift requirement, design and build a new tanker and develop an interdiction bomber to replace the B-52. The Army must modernize and replace almost its entire capital stock of fighting vehicles.
It is impossible, as a matter of budgetary mathematics, for the services to execute their modernization plans without an increase in funding of at least what The Heritage Foundation is proposing. Readers who are interested in the documentation of these figures, as well as a history of how we got where we are, can go to The Heritage Foundation's "Four Percent For Freedom" website.
I should say that the Chiefs of Staff, far from being out front on the funding issue, have turned somersaults over the years to avoid criticizing the budgets of the administrations they have served. I witnessed this phenomenon for the twelve years I served on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees over the last two decades. It is a measure of the budget crisis we are now in that the new Chairman, as well as the Air Force Chief of Staff, have finally come out plainly on the extent of the shortfall.
But none of this is really what is at issue. I said in my article that the question was not whether the additional funding was necessary to maintain American military predominance--it unquestionably is--but whether American military predominance was still necessary in a post-Cold War world. As I feared, Mr. Carpenter and many others reflexively answer that question in the negative. According to him, there is no need to maintain America's military at anything like its current strength. He writes that the war against terror requires only "glorified law enforcement" tactics; the United States can't possibly face any "peer competitor"--a nation with capabilities comparable to ours--for 15-20 years; and America can abandon its commitments to South Korea, Europe, and presumably Israel and Taiwan, without destabilizing those parts of the world in a way that threatens our vital interests.
I respect Mr. Carpenter's sincerity too much to trade ad hominem attacks with him. But I believe his position is the triumph of ideology over reality; at a minimum, it ignores the risks created by: the collapse of democracy in Russia, the rapid growth of Chinese power and the reemergence of Chinese national ambitions, the proliferation of nuclear weapons to rogue states and unstable governments, the rise of Islamic fanaticism empowered by the tools of asymmetrical warfare, and the intense ethnic and religious rivalries that have led to genocide on a vast scale in Europe, Africa and Asia in the last twenty years. I wish these risks were not real or that they would go away on their own. But they are real; it is very unlikely that they will simply go away, and they pose threats to America that transcend traditional political or party divisions. That is why the last two presidents--men of nearly opposite temperaments and orientations--both found it necessary to deploy the American military at a far greater rate and in far more contexts than had ever been the case during the Cold War.
I should say that The Heritage Foundation strongly supports innovations in foreign policy; in particular, we believe that the United States should organize the free world more effectively to help us sustain the burdens of freedom and security. In addition, we believe America is increasingly handicapped by its failure, more than 15 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, to develop a strategic mission in the post-Cold War era. I wrote recently on this subject myself in Forward, the magazine of Margaret Thatcher's organization Conservative Way Forward, and of course Heritage has extensive material detailing the risks that we face around the world and the right ways, in our view, to deal with them. But we can see no reasonable foreign policy scenario in the next generation where a weaker America is a safer America.
The difference between Mr. Carpenter and The Heritage Foundation comes down to this. He thinks sustaining American power is at best irrelevant to our peace and security and at worst would itself increase the threat of war. We believe the lesson of history is that American power is a deterrent to war; or as Ronald Reagan was fond of saying, "Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because America was too strong." The reader can choose for himself which assumptions about the world, and America's place in it, best fit reality. But no one should delude themselves about the danger of the budgetary crisis we are now in. The "Four Percent For Freedom" solution that The Heritage Foundation supports is the minimum necessary to enable our servicemen and women to carry out the missions our government has currently given them with risks that are acceptable to them and us. Perhaps the number of those missions will be reduced in ways that now seem unlikely. But in the meantime, the United States should sustain the capability to do what it has resolved to do. It is not safe for the country, or fair to our troops, to underfund defense on the assumption that those with beliefs like Mr. Carpenter either should or will succeed in radically changing America's relationship to the rest of the world.
Jim Talent served in the United States House of Representatives (1993-2001) and Senate (2002-2007). He was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and, for four years, Chairman of the committee's Seapower Subcommittee. He is currently a distinguished fellow in military affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the National Interest online