April 15, 2011 | WebMemo on National Security and Defense
In the course of his April 13 speech on the fiscal crisis, President Obama took the opportunity to renounce his own defense budget, which he unveiled only two months ago. According to the White House, he is seeking $400 billion in additional defense cuts between now and fiscal year (FY) 2023. This means an average of over $33 billion per year.
In his February statement on his FY 2012 budget submission, the President recognized the need to exempt national security spending, including the narrower category of defense spending, from a freeze on other discretionary spending accounts. Even then, the President’s five-year defense budget proposal from February falls far short of what is required to sustain U.S. security commitments around the world. In fact, securing U.S. vital interests would require some $500 billion in additional spending for the “core” defense program, which excludes funding for the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan an Iraq, in the years covering FY 2012–FY 2016. The additional cuts proposed by the President on April 13 would put the core defense program almost $650 billion in the hole over the same period.
The Need for Context
President Obama strove mightily in his April 13 speech to place his statement on the need for further defense spending reductions out of context. He did so by lumping defense spending together with all other federal spending. This conveniently ignores the fact that the defense program’s starting point in terms of spending restraint is radically different from those of all other elements of the federal budget. The following are some of the facts that both Congress and the public should keep in mind.
The Impact of Further Defense Budget Reductions
The specific impacts of these reductions—such as the size of the military, training levels, research and develop programs, and procurement programs—will not be known for some time. The White House, however, has made it clear that a review of the application of the defense reductions will begin with an assessment of changing the role of the U.S. in world affairs. Given that the review follows from the demand for defense budget reductions, it will emphasize not how the U.S. will more effectively strengthen its role in world affairs but how to diminish the U.S. role.
This basic approach is problematic because it assumes that the White House and the Department of Defense can predict years in advance what specific military operations the U.S. may be compelled to enter in a way that does not exceed the imposed limits on resources.
Forcing Policy Changes
President Obama asserted in his April 13 speech that a major contributor to the fiscal crisis the U.S. now finds itself in was the military engagements following the attacks of September 11, 2001. By this logic, the President would assume that the U.S. was not compelled to take military action in response to those attacks. His stated support for the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan, however, makes it clear that even the President himself does not really believe in this assumption. His willingness to commit U.S. military forces to intervening in the Libyan civil conflict has demonstrated that this assumption cannot survive contact with the real world, even in the very short term. Necessarily, prudent defense planning has always assumed the need for an extra margin of military strength in order to respond quickly and effectively to unanticipated events.
In this context, the new round of defense budget reductions is about forcing changes in the basic foreign and security policies of the U.S.
In order to maintain a military of sufficient strength for the U.S. to maintain its existing security commitments with the necessary margin for responding to unanticipated events, the defense budget needs to:
Rue the Day
Some Americans, President Obama among them, may think that diminishing America’s role in the world will not have an adverse impact on the security of Americans. This argument could not be more wrong. America’s prominent role in the world provides its people with a benefit that few others enjoy, which is the ability have a great measure of control over its own destiny in a dangerous world.
All Americans will come to rue April 13, 2011, when they realize that others who are not their friends have become able to manipulate them and ultimately deprive them of at least a measure of their freedom and security.
Baker Spring is F. M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.