March 7, 2012 | Testimony on National Security and Defense
My name is Dr. James Jay Carafano. I am the Deputy Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. The views I express in this testimony are my own, and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the vitally important subject of providing our men and women in uniform with the resources they need to defend us. My assessment is that President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for FY 2013 (in combination with automatic spending reductions required under the Budget Control Act of 2011) would reduce the capabilities of the armed forces to the point that they could no longer protect U.S. vital interests and keep U.S. security commitments around the world. This conclusion is based on an evaluation of global defense needs that The Heritage Foundation undertook just last year. Our assessment quantified how current and projected capabilities align with legitimate defense requirements by describing the dangers that U.S. military forces will likely face and the capabilities needed to meet those dangers in five strategically important regions: Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the American homeland, and globally.
The capabilities and readiness posture that can be achieved under the President’s vision fall far short of what is adequate.
In my testimony today, I would like to concentrate on what I see as the key issues that the Congress must consider in evaluating the President’s FY 2013 defense budget request and its shortfalls: (1) How defense relates to addressing the nation’s overall fiscal challenges, (2) how the President’s proposal compares to strategic defense requirements, (3) the consequences of the President’s proposal, (4) where real savings can be achieved, and (5) an alternative path forward for investing in defense.
I supervise all of The Heritage Foundation’s research on public policy concerning foreign policy and national security. How government fulfills its fundamental obligation under the Constitution to “provide for the common defense” has long been a Heritage research priority. To meet the unique challenges of the post-9/11 world, the foundation has assembled over the past decade a robust, talented, and dedicated research team. I have the honor and privilege of leading that team.
Heritage analysts have studied and written authoritatively on virtually every aspect of defense affairs with particular emphasis on reforms and efficiencies, the reserve components, strategic arms and missile defense, homeland defense, the unified command plan, force structure, missions, regional security issues, science and technology, and the defense budget. The foundation was an early proponent for many initiatives and reforms including conceptualizing the Strategic Defense Initiative and establishing the U.S. Africa Command. The results of all our research are publicly available on the Heritage website at www.heritage.org.
We collaborate frequently with other institutions in the research community. In particular, we prize our collaborative efforts with the American Enterprise Institute and the Foreign Policy Initiative. Working together with these groups as part of the “Defending Defense” coalition, we have undertaken a concerted effort to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining the readiness and capabilities of the armed forces.
In addition, our analysts regularly interact with the War Colleges, federally funded research development centers, the armed services, and the Joint and Defense Department Staffs. Heritage analysts also serve on a variety of government advisory efforts including the National Academies Board on Army Science and Technology, the Department of the Army Historical Advisory Committee, and the Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities, as well as institutions that support the armed forces such as the Marine Corps University Foundation.
Our research programs are nonpartisan, dedicated to developing policy proposals that will keep the nation safe, free, and prosperous. The concerns I express today rest on the foundation of that research.
Cutting the capabilities of the armed forces and degrading readiness cannot be justified as a necessary austerity measure for reducing federal spending. It is an unrealistic strategy for achieving long-term savings.
First, there is little question that, even without the mandatory reductions in spending under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Administration is cutting back on defense as its primary means for slowing the growth of federal spending. Defense, accounting for less than 20 percent of the federal budget, will absorb over 50 percent of the planned reductions in federal spending.
Under the Administration’s budget proposal defense would not return to FY 2010 spending levels for the entirety of the 10-year projection with reductions front-loaded in the first five years (FY 2011–FY 2014) and then growing slowly from the low point (in terms of current dollars).
These reductions cannot be defended as being necessary to restore the nation’s fiscal health and reining in government spending. The level of defense expenditures today is modest by historic standards. The United States spent on average about 7.5 percent of GDP on defense during the Cold War. Current levels of spending are about half that.
Further, even steep defense reductions will not stem the long-term growth of government. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid together already account for about 10 percent of GDP and 43 percent of federal spending. In a few decades, even if defense spending were to go to zero, the rising costs of sustaining these programs will consume all federal taxes. We are facing the consequences of generations of politicians from both political parties having promised millions of Americans certain services without regard to cost or how we will pay for them. The nation cannot be made safe or prosperous without addressing this core fiscal issue.
But it is not necessary to make Hobbesian choices. In 2011, The Heritage Foundation laid out a long-term budget proposal that would balance the budget in 10 years, significantly reduce the federal debt, leaves every class of Americans better off than they are now, does not raise taxes, and fully funds defense at adequate levels for decades. The Heritage plan achieves these goals by reducing the federal government so that it is closer to its proper size and focused on performing its core responsibilities; and transforming entitlement programs to better meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s seniors while making them affordable; and holding down taxes while reforming our needlessly complex, burdensome, and highly unfair tax system. Under this plan, called Saving the American Dream, this nation can return to prosperity and government can meet its obligation to provide for the common defense.
In contrast, all this budget can do is ensure that defense becomes the nation’s last priority.
The President’s proposal was informed by the defense strategic guidance released to the public in January 2012. The guidance, however, is not a credible assessment of future U.S. defense needs.
In 2010, the Administration released its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which called for substantially more capability than would be funded under the President’s current proposal. Furthermore, the congressionally chartered bipartisan Independent Panel tasked to review the finding of the QDR concluded that the report underestimated defense requirements. In his opening statement at hearings reviewing the findings of the panel Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed out “[t]he panel goes on to warn us about what it calls the ‘growing gap’ between what the military is capable of doing and what they may be called upon to do in the future.”
Yet, now the White House has declared that we can get by with dramatically less capability. All of which begs the question: What does the White House know now that it did not know when it signed off on the 2010 QDR report? The answer is, not much.
Early on in his tenure in office, President Obama clearly expressed his intent to get U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by 2011, and out of Afghanistan by 2014. Yet, back in 2010, there was no signal that the forces used to fight those wars would be scrubbed from the Pentagon’s ranks.
Furthermore, little else in the global security environment is dramatically different. For example, Iran is still an aggressive, destabilizing power that is a proven state sponsor of terrorism and is actively seeking to gain nuclear weapons. The only real change in the situation is that North Korea now has a new leader – a young, untested, and unpredictable neophyte with his finger on the country’s nuclear trigger. Russia is as restive as ever. Despite White House claims of successfully “resetting” relations with Moscow, there have been no real foreign policy breakthroughs or closer alignment with the Kremlin. Nor can the Administration claim it has made great strides in managing strategic competition with China. In fact, the strategic guidance calls for a “pivot” towards Asia for one reason – to keep pace with Beijing’s efforts to erect an expanding sphere of influence that crowds out the United States. And then there remain the bugbears of Iraq and Afghanistan, where there are deep concerns over whether the U.S. can continue to secure its interests. In Iraq, government officials admit there is a potential for a resurgence of violence. There are also concerns over Iraq’s political stability in a post-Coalition environment. At the same time in Afghanistan, U.S. and NATO intelligence assessments alike cast doubt on whether enough has been done to prevent the resurgence of an armed, anti-American Taliban. And when the Taliban returns, so will al-Qaeda – seeking to reestablish the operational base it had in the country before 2001. In other words, the world does not look all that different two years after the QDR. The White House, therefore, cannot argue that the Pentagon needs to change because the world has.
The Administration’s strategic guidance is simply not a credible guide as a basis for the FY2013 defense budget.
Of additional concern is that several key initiatives proposed in the strategic guidance to mitigate security risks are not adequately addressed in the President’s FY 2013 proposal.
In short, the “risk mitigation” measures trumpeted in the strategic guidance have not translated well into actual budget proposals.
The consequences of the President’s 2013 budget proposal are that the U.S. could well, in short order, experience the “hollow” military concerns that the armed forces faced before the Korean War, after Vietnam, and in the waning years of the Clinton presidency. A military force goes hollow when it lacks sufficient capabilities to undertake three fundamental tasks: maintain trained and ready forces; fulfill current missions and operations; and prepare for the future. If the armed forces cannot do all three of these tasks it becomes a hollow force—one that may look adequate on paper, but in practice cannot fulfill the obligations to meet the nation’s national security needs.
The Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) recently prepared report, “A Historical Perspective on ‘Hollow Forces,’” offers an assessment of the criteria by which “hollowness” is measured. The CRS report points out that in several ways, the challenges the military faced in the post-Vietnam years differed from those the services confronted during the Clinton presidency. Similarly, the report notes that the issues confronting today’s military differ in key respects as well. The report concludes that, “given these conditions, it can be argued that the use of the term ‘hollow force’ is inappropriate under present circumstances.”
The CRS report, however, is cold comfort. What is critical to understand is that if a military can’t field trained and ready forces, conduct current missions, and prepare for future threats, it is inadequate. With the Pentagon facing a dramatic reduction in capability, it is irresponsible to suggest that this isn’t something worth worrying about.
While the President, Administration officials, and senior leaders in the Pentagon have assured the Congress that this won’t happen again, identical assurances were issued by political leaders (from both political parties) and senior military officials when the military went hollow in the past .
Further, as you well know, even the Administration’s budget proposals do not account for the additional cuts required under the Budget Control Act of 2011. The sequestration provision of the Budget Control Act could impose additional defense budget reductions of $500 billion or more over the next nine years. Administration officials have asserted that Administration policy does not support the sequestration of the defense budget under the Budget Control Act. This is troubling. Even as Administration officials offer the most optimistic reassurances to justify the adequacy of their defense proposals—even they acknowledged that under automatic sequestration that support for the armed forces will be inadequate. Since the President’s defense cuts are front-loaded, combined with sequestration, in the short term there is potential significant degradation to military capabilities and readiness. As a result of the loss of human capital, disruptions to procurement, and deferred maintenance and training it could take the military many years and cost a great deal to recover. What is being championed as cost savings could in the end cost the nation a good deal.
The Administration has already claimed to have garnered significant savings in efficiencies. Indeed, even by the Secretary of Defense’s own admission three-quarters of the projected future cuts are reductions in capability, not cost-saving. The most effective cost-saving measures are not adequately reflected in the President’s defense budget—and as a first priority Congress should look to correcting this error.
These savings are urgently needed to free up resources to reinvest in our military. The military is still on its post-Cold War “procurement holiday.” Exacerbating the challenge of sustaining the force into the future is the wear and tear in the wake of decade of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reconstituting the military is an urgent priority. Without these proposed reforms—even with a higher “top line” for defense—there won’t be sufficient resources to do the job.
An addition to garnering real saving that the President’s proposals do not, the nation needs a fundamentally different approach to defense planning. Rather than masking growing risks, we should be investing to mitigate real ones.
Failure to prepare for potential threats is the best way to ensure that they will become real threats. The world is a dangerous place. The U.S. military is already pressed to meet its commitments because of the long-term effects of the “peace dividend” taken after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The demands on the U.S. military will likely not lessen in the mid term. Further cuts in U.S. force structure will only increase the risks to U.S. forces. Maintaining a military below minimum commonsense levels would limit the U.S. to undertaking only one major military operation at a time. If faced with domestic crises like Hurricane Katrina or unexpected overseas contingencies, the U.S. would be forced to choose between ongoing tasks or simply not responding.
Vital national interests tend to remain constant, but dramatic changes, such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and 9/11, can change strategic requirements. Such events are not always predictable. While leaders should try to be sufficiently flexible to adapt to rapid change, these shifts cannot serve as the basis for defense planning any more than winning the lottery should be part of a plan to balance the family budget. Making radical changes in forces, such as sharply cutting the number of fighters or reducing ballistic missile defense (BMD) requirements, may save money in the short term; but in the long run, it will increase both the costs and the risks by disrupting the sustained investment needed to maintain core defense capabilities.
Since the end of the Cold War, America’s military has operated at a far higher operational tempo than it did during the Cold War. However, while the military has been busier than ever, its size and strength have declined. The Air Force is smaller and its inventory is older than at any time since its inception in 1947. The Navy has fewer ships than at any time since 1916. All three services are 30 percent to 40 percent smaller than they were during Desert Storm. As a result, the National Guard and Reserves have been constantly mobilized, and a number of Army units are on their fifth or sixth deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.
America depends on its existing forces to respond to both anticipated and unanticipated events. It cannot rely on a “just-in-time” industrial base or mass mobilization plans to meet unexpected challenges.
The best way to mitigate threats going forward is to sustain and modernize the current force.
Adopting a different defense budget, one that does not endorse divesting the nation of needed military capability, begins with taking a different approach to the FY2013 budget. The appropriate steps would include:
In my military career I served through the hollow forces of the 1970s and the 1990s. Having witnessed what was done to undermine military preparedness twice in my lifetime, I fear for my country and the men and women under arms who could go through a similar experience in the world we live in today. The burden this Congress faces in considering this budget are grave and the consequences of getting it wrong are significant. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this vital issue and I stand ready to answer your questions.
 The Heritage Foundation, “A Strong National Defense: The Armed Forces America Needs and What They Will Cost” April 5, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/04/a-strong-national-defense-the-armed-forces-america-needs-and-what-they-will-cost.
 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, supplemental materials for Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2013: Analytical Perspectives (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2012), February 13, 2012, Table 32-1, at http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2013/assets/32_1.pdf (February 14, 2012). In calculating from President Obama’s second defense budget request for FY 2011, the administration lowered the defense budget baseline by about $750 billion over 10 years. This then allowed the Administration to argue that it has not cut the defense budget, but only slowed the rate of growth. Further, the Administration blurred accountability through manipulating funding for overseas contingency operations (OCO). Including OCO expenditures in any comparison is appropriate because existing historical descriptions of defense expenditures have included them.
 Stuart M. Butler, Alison Acosta Fraser and William W. Beach, Saving the American Dream: The Heritage Plan to Fix the Debt, Cut Spending, and Restore Prosperity, The Heritage Foundation, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/05/saving-the-american-dream-the-heritage-plan-to-fix-the-debt-cut-spending-and-restore-prosperity.
 Department of Defense, “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense,” January 2012, at http://www.defense.gov/news/Defense_Strategic_Guidance.pdf.
 “Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel,” August 3, 2010, at http://www.levin.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=b3442dde-da09-4b43-87ed-23464a2a8717.
 Adapted from Bruce Klingner, “The Missing Asia Pivot in Obama's Defense Strategy,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3443, January 6, 2012, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/01/the-missing-asia-pivot-in-obamas-defense-strategy.
Baker Spring, ‘Congress Fails to Undo President Obama’s Damage on Missile Defense,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2650, February 8, 2012, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/02/congress-fails-to-undo-president-obamas-damage-on-missile-defense.
 Congressional Budget Office, “Evaluating Military Compensation,” June 2007, p. 32, at http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/ftpdocs/82xx/doc8271/06-29-compensation.pdf (February 23, 2012).
 Baker Spring, “Saving the American Dream: Improving Health Care and Retirement for Military Service Members and Their Families,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2621, November 17, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/saving-the-american-dream-improving-health-care-and-retirement-for-military-service-members.
Baker Spring, “Performance-Based Logistics: Making the Military More Efficient,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2411, May 10, 2010, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/05/performance-based-logistics-making-the-military-more-efficient.
 Mackenzie Eaglen, “Taking a Scalpel to the Defense Budget,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3132, February 3, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/02/taking-a-scalpel-to-the-defense-budget .
 Mackenzie Eaglen and Julia Pollak, “How to Save Money, Reform Processes, and Increase Efficiency in the Defense Department,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2507, January 10, 2011, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/01/how-to-save-money-reform-processes-and-increase-efficiency-in-the-defense-department.
 Baker Spring, “Enforce Financial Management Requirements at the Department of Defense,” Heritage Foundation WebMemo No. 3423, November 29, 2011, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/11/improve-financial-management-system-at-the-department-of-defense.
 This section is adapted from Baker Spring, “Obama’s Defense Budget Makes Protecting America its Lowest Priority,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 2658, March 1, 2012, at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/03/obamas-defense-budget-makes-protecting-america-its-lowest-priority#_ftn29.