November 21, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Does America Need to Cut Defense Spending?

The Post asked analysts and members of Congress whether the federal government should cut defense spending. Below are responses from Maya MacGuineas, Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Ron Paul, Mackenzie Eaglen, Jane Harman and Rob Andrews.

Most advocating reductions in defense spending typically seek either to (1) pull back on what America does with its defense ("stop being a global policeman," "bring the troops home"); or (2) balance the federal checkbook using the haircut method (cut a little from everywhere to spread the pain).

Both positions have serious flaws.

The first ignores one fact: To cut defense responsibly, the president would first have to decide which of our commitments abroad could be abandoned safely - no easy task, given the scope of threats we face. And while the second may sound fair, simply axing defense today - the primary and only mandatory function of government - means we'll have to spend more later to rebuild.

Yes, defense should not be immune to "cuts." Taxpayer dollars must be spent wisely. But the military is flying, sailing and driving in a lot of equipment that is 20 to 60 years old. It's expensive to keep professionals in service, and their equipment has worn out at wartime rates.

Plus, as Colin Powell recently noted, the military is being asked to do more than the troops in World War II did - not just in Afghanistan, but in places such as Yemen, Haiti, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Somalia.

Some judicious cuts could make sense, but we need to spend to reconstitute our military right now. Unless America is ready to abandon its leadership role in the world, defense must be funded accordingly.

Mackenzie Eaglen is a research fellow for national security studies at the Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Mackenzie Eaglen Research Fellow for National Security Studies, Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

First appeared in The Washington Post