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The Military We Need

A strategic approach to affordable and effective defense.

11:00 PM, Dec 22, 2008 • By STUART KOEHL
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On Sunday, December 21, that paragon of strategic acumen, the New York Times editorial page, offered up its suggestions regarding how President-elect Barack Obama should shape his next defense budget. Entitled "How to Pay for a 21st Century Military," its prescription is quite simple: Cut just about everything. After all, as previous Times editorials have informed us, we have nothing to fear from other great powers--all future threats will come from guys like al Qaeda (and if you read the Times regularly, you know they really aren't a military threat but a law enforcement problem). As the Times puts it,

Since 2001, basic defense spending has risen by 40 percent in real post-inflation dollars. That is not counting the huge supplemental budgets passed--with little serious review or debate--each year to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such unquestioned largess has shielded the Pentagon from any real pressure to cut unneeded weapons systems and other wasteful expenses.

Just what are these unneeded weapon systems and wasteful expenses? With regard to the former, just about everything that the Pentagon has been developing for the past decade or so, including:

* The FA-22 Raptor stealth fighter

* The DDG-21 Zumwalt-class destroyer

* The Virginia class nuclear attack submarine

* The V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft

* Ballistic Missile Defense systems.

The Times also calls for trimming the active duty Air Force and Navy because

The United States enjoys total dominance of the world's seas and skies and will for many years to come. The Army and the Marines have proved too small for the demands of simultaneous ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are the forces most likely to be called on in future interventions against terrorist groups or to rescue failing states. Reducing the Navy by one carrier group and the Air Force by two air wings would save about $5 billion a year.

This is necessary because the Army must

Increase the size of the ground force. The current buildup of the Army and the Marine Corps will cost more than $100 billion over the next six years. Trimming the size of the Navy and Air Force, deferring the deployment of unready missile defenses and canceling the Osprey will pay for much of that.

The Navy for its part should forget about "blue water" sea control, and produce more Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), "which operate in shallow waters to support ground combat, cost about $600 million each."

The military can and must do all this, because, according to the Times, there is a budget crunch (known in the Pentagon as the "train wreck") coming, and the Obama administration will be forced to make drastic cuts in defense but will still have to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (you know, the ones the Times thinks we should end immediately). There is little risk, the Times says, because we do not face any "peer competitors" able to wage large-scale conventional war against us. But as Gordon Chang notes at Commentary's blog "Contentions"

The premise is that the United States is not going to be fighting major conflicts in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, that's an assumption we should not make. After all, history teaches us to be wary: both World War II and Korea started for us with surprise attacks.


The Times also assumes that no big power is going to take us on. Is that so? China, with a rapidly modernizing military, wants Taiwan and islands belonging to others in its surrounding seas. Moreover, it is configuring its military to fight us. Moreover, a desperate North Korea continues to covet South Korea. And is it really inconceivable that an aggressive Russia will try to grab more neighboring land?