In a joint statement, three conservative think tanks criticize defense cuts included in a number of budget proposals floating around Washington:
America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world.
The proposed defense budget cuts, spending freezes, and program cancellations put forward recently in a series of high-profile studies and reports from the chairmen of President Obama’s deficit commission, as well as the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force, do not appear to be grounded in any realistic assessment of our military’s current capabilities and the challenges we are likely to face in the years ahead. As Defense Secretary Robert Gates described the proposals drafted by deficit commission co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, “in terms of the specifics they came up with, that’s essentially math, not strategy.”
Gates’ criticisms apply equally to the efforts overseen by former Sen. Pete Domenici and former Congressional Budget office director Alice Rivlin. Their task force calls for a freeze on defense spending and Pentagon cuts that would take the military’s budget down to 2000 levels; in short, they want to return to a peacetime budget in the midst of two protracted wars. The White House deficit commission co-chair's recommendations were similarly bipartisan but more specific, identifying a series of specific weapons programs which would together decimate the war fighting capacity of America’s armed services, particularly the Marine Corps.
Economically, there is no reason to make defense the bill-payer for the country’s domestic excesses: Pentagon spending is a drop in the bucket of the government’s $13.3 trillion debt. As Secretary Gates pointed out recently, “If you cut the defense budget by 10 percent, which would be catastrophic in terms of force structure, that's $55 billion on a $1.4 trillion deficit.” Defense, he rightly concluded, is “not the problem” driving the country’s deficit. Indeed, as former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers Martin Feldstein has noted, Simpson and Bowles “overlooked the easiest route to reducing the deficits over the next decade: scaling back the costly budget that President Obama presented earlier this year. Much of the projected doubling of the national debt between 2010 and 2020 reflects the spending and tax proposals in that budget.”