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January 31, 2012

Obama's New Defense Guidance

Misguided Assumptions

  • CLAIM: Just Taking Another Peace Dividend: The U.S. dramatically reduced defense spending after the Cold War. Since then, the military has been living off the build-up under Ronald Reagan. Defense increases after 9/11 were largely spent on 10 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, not modernization or recapitalizing forces (i.e., new planes, ships, or weapon systems). Today, the military is in dire need of repair, not another “peace dividend.”
  • CLAIM: Large-Scale Stability Operations Are a Thing of the Past: The U.S. is returning to ground-force levels under President Clinton, when the Army struggled to perform even relatively small-scale missions like Kosovo and Bosnia. Going down this path again is dangerous.
  • CLAIM: We Can Maintain Deterrence While Reducing Nuclear Weapons: Cutting nuclear capabilities while cutting conventional ones makes no sense. Eisenhower cut conventional forces but bolstered our nuclear deterrent to cover smaller forces. There is no evidence that U.S. disarmament leads to less proliferation. Since 1991, the U.S. has eliminated roughly 73% of its nuclear stockpile, yet the number of nuclear-weapon states has grown.

 Eliminating Defense would not Solve the Entitlement Spending Problem

Misleading and Weak Arguments

  • CLAIM: Just Doing What Rumsfeld Would’ve Done: Transformational capabilities can supplement robust forces, not replace them—a lesson we learned after 9/11. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld promoted transformational innovation by emphasizing high-tech network warfare, nimble forces, and airpower. These are worthwhile pursuits, but Iraq and Afghanistan proved that they are no substitute for boots on the ground.
  • CLAIM: U.S. Is Shifting Resources Toward Asia: The U.S. is not increasing investments in its Pacific forces or Asia but just cutting proportionately elsewhere and rotating forces—a kind of global “Ponzi scheme.” America’s armed forces are already overstretched and operating at maximum operational tempo; cutting defense will exacerbate the situation.
  • CLAIM: Cuts to Military Programs Are “Reversible”: Some large platforms, such as aircraft carriers, take a half-decade to deliver. Once a major program is terminated, revamping it involves significant time and expense. The U.S. no longer has a “just-in-time” industrial base to crank out weapons if wars start. Nor can troop levels be increased overnight. The U.S. couldn’t implement the “surge” in Iraq until 2008 or in Afghanistan until after Iraq.

Misrepresenting the Size of the Defense Cuts

  • CLAIM: We Must Cut Defense to Balance the Budget: Defense accounts for less than 20% of the federal budget but is already bearing half the deficit-reduction cuts, while domestic spending is exploding. Targeting defense merely keeps politicians from dealing with the real deficit drivers. Spending on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security over the next few decades will consume the entire federal budget even if defense is taken to zero.
  • CLAIM: We Can Meet 21st-Century Challenges with Allies in “Smart Defense”: Many key allies are already doing less. Besides the U.S., just four NATO members (Albania, France, Greece, and the U.K.) commit the benchmark 2% of gross domestic product to defense. They will more likely distance themselves from U.S. policy than offset our cuts. Moreover, Americans expect the President, not foreigners, to decide how to defend our vital national interests.

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