Friday, March 7, 2014

Military Might Does Not Boil Down to Spending: A Look at the FY 2015 Defense Budget

     President Obama's proposed FY 2015 budget has been subjected to harsh criticism for the defense cuts outlined within.  Hawks in Congress have crucified the administration for supposedly crippling the military and putting national security at risk.  President Obama has proposed $495.6 billion in discretionary spending for defense with another $79.4 billion for contingency operations totaling $575 billion.  To add some context into previous military budgets and current trends, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, in calendar year 2012, defense spending declined from $711 billion to $668 billion.

     China recently increased their military spending by over 12 percent, which further increased tensions over the US decline.  However, in a report published by Third Way, a Washington based think tank, the United States still outspends much of the world's largest military spenders combined.  In their report, the authors assert, "The budget maintains a level of military spending that is three times higher than that of China’s military budget and five times more than Russia’s."  To further silence critics, Third Way stated the president's budget is higher than that of President Ronald Reagan.  "Critics like Dick Cheney, who claims the President’s budget 'does enormous long-term damage to our military,' and Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ), who claim it 'will weaken our nation’s security,' are ignoring a key fact – President Obama’s plan provides the military more money than President Reagan ever did."

     Due to an ever changing enemy, the military is modernizing and must adapt to mandatory cuts from Congress.  In a House Armed Services Committee hearing last week, it was noted that, "Since the budget is $115 billion above sequestration caps over a five year period through 2019, if lawmakers do not overturn sequestration, defense officials say more aircraft and ships would be cut, among other things, and forces will be less ready to take on missions," yet "lawmakers admitted overturning sequestration is not likely."  The current budget cuts reflect the Budget Control Act of 2011, which created the sequester.  Congress contributed in creating this hole, but they refuse to bare a portion of the responsibility.

     It is no secret that many in Congress favor a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution vis a vis the individual states.  In addition, bringing down the overall deficit is of great importance to conservatives.  This week, in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio stated, "All the problems of the world, all the conflicts of the world are being created by totalitarian regimes who are more interested in forcing people to do what they want to do then in truly achieving peace and prosperity and one nation that can stand up to them...America."  Despite common opinion, the national deficit has gone down under President Obama.  How do conservatives in Congress expect the deficit to shrink if the US continues to force its hand militarily into every major global conflict?

     Furthermore, in a Senate hearing last week, John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the new budget proposal for leading to the "smallest Army and Navy since before World War II, and a reduced Air Force," which is especially important during this critical situation involving Russia and Ukraine.  However, as Third Way noted, "the President’s proposed 450,000-soldier Army would be nearly 70% larger than the Army of 1940, and one of the largest armies in the world, and certainly the most experienced and capable," and "it ensures that the U.S. will maintain about as many military aircraft as the next eight countries combined."  While the military appears, for now, to remain strong, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel bluntly noted in Congress this week that, "The [sequester] cuts would 'compromise our national security,'" and "'The result would be a military that could not fulfill its defense strategy, putting at risk America's traditional role as a guarantor of global security and ultimately our own security.'"

     It is clear Congress is somewhat to blame but the United States is not weaker for the proposed budget cuts.  President Obama's budget states that the proposed funding will not affect readiness and the US must retire outdated technology such as Kiowa Warrior helicopters and single-mission A-10 Warthog aircraft and replace them with more modern technology.  Militarily, the United States is still much more powerful than any nation in the rest of the world - by a lot.  The area in which the military lacks is strategy.  In order for the military to be more effective, their strategy must change.  The counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq were marginally successful but the US Army is not a police force aimed at instilling peace.  They are soldiers.  Defense officials must better understand our enemies and develop strategies for combating them, which does not always mean military intervention (sanctions, diplomacy.)

     Overall, the debates in Congress can be boiled down to one thing - politics.  President Obama's foreign policy has always been the subject of criticism (and some of his policy is deserving of such) but ultimately, Congress must take some responsibility for enacting the sequester, and not repealing incremental cuts that have yet to go into effect (as part of the Budget Control Act, mandatory spending cuts were not simply a one-time deal - they would increase year by year and program by program.) 

     Military spending on projects such as the F-35 have created a huge hole in the budget for tax payers with the military not meeting deadlines for production (it is seven years behind schedule with $163 billion in cost overruns.)  While the F-35 will give the US a significant competitive advantage, Congress should be pouring more of its oversight resources into the F-35 project.  Lastly, Congress truly believes our military will be weaker due to the proposed FY 2015 budget, rather than holding hearings aimed at shaking a finger toward the Executive Branch, maybe they should look in the mirror for a solution.

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