Tuesday’s Associated Press report that President Obama is considering large cuts in our strategic arsenal is just the latest of this week’s grim news about the president’s national-defense plans.
On nukes, the administration is apparently pondering reductions of up to 80 percent of deployed warheads — a breathtaking slash to our nuclear-deterrence posture. This comes on top of troubling plans outlined in the president’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.
Put simply, the budget features a serious mismatch between the resources it gives our military and the likely global threats that our forces must contend with.
Take a look at expected major military cuts.
Navy: The fleet needs to get ready for some heavy budget seas. The Navy will have to mothball nine cruisers and amphibious ships and remove “16 more [ships] from the new construction plan,” according to the House Armed Services Committee.
Air Force: Fewer fighters will be going off into the Wild Blue Yonder when six squadrons are axed. The plan also dispenses with some 130 air-mobility planes such as the C-5 and C-130, which do critical logistics work.
Ground Forces: The Army will decline by about 70,000 GIs, to some 490,000 soldiers, closing down eight Brigade Combat Teams. There will be fewer leathernecks, too, with the Marine Corps shrinking some 20,000, to around 180,000.
Nor does Obama’s budget take into account the looming “sequestration” (automatic reduction) of as much as $600 billion to national-security spending over a decade, as required by last year’s Budget Control Act. As recently as this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that these new cuts would do “severe damage” to the military’s ability to project power and protect the country.
With the Defense Department already in the process of slicing spending some $500 billion over the next 10 years, simple math tells you defense cuts may top $1 trillion in the same period, requiring a further fall in force structure.
So, what does this all mean?
If Congress passes the budget, we’ll basically have to deal with expanding international-security challenges with a dwindling US military. Friend and foe alike will draw the obvious conclusions.
Without a doubt, the disparity between threats and our defense resources will also raise the risks to our brave young men and women, while reducing our ability to shape and affect world events.
For example, Team Obama talks about a shift or “pivot” away from the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan toward Asia to deal with what is unspoken by the administration but believed to be a rising China.
No question: Asia, especially China, needs more attention — but the smaller Navy is going to be hard pressed to deal with Beijing’s ever-expanding fleet in the vast Pacific Ocean, known for its “tyranny of distance.”
Will we have the military capacity for dealing with an ever more belligerent Iran? Just yesterday, Tehran announced that it has a new generation of centrifuges for enriching uranium as well as its first locally produced nuclear-reactor fuel rods.
Down the road, domestic fuel rods, if reprocessed into plutonium, could provide Iran with a second avenue to produce nukes beyond its ongoing program.
It’s worth noting our enemies get a say in when and where the next fight comes — and war is a come-as-you-are affair. Yes, a strategy of “nimble” and “flexible” is attractive, but there’s a certain quality in quantity even in today’s high-tech “battlespace.”
Defense spending shouldn’t be held hostage to politics nor driven by pure budget numbers. Instead, it should be based on the international environment we face now and expect in the future — and that doesn’t look rosy at all.
Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and former deputy assistant secretary of defense.
First appeared in The New York Post