Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) spoke at AEI this morning on the Obama administration's defense budget and his concern that it reflects "the wrong budget priorities for our country. Cornyn said that "when you look at the Administration's blueprints for both the base budget and the supplemental, you see that by FY2019 -- one decade from now -- our defense spending will be only 3 percent of GDP."
Cornyn compared the growth of discretionary federal spending over the next year (7.7 percent) to the growth of defense spending (4 percent) and said "it looks like we are about to make the same mistake we made in the 1970s and 1990s. We are about to cash in a so-called 'peace dividend' by growing domestic spending and weakening our defenses." In fact, when the supplementals are factored in, the country will spend less on defense in FY 2010 ($663.8 billion) than was spent in FY 2008 ($666 billion). There is no doubt that defense budgets will decline in real terms under President Obama.
Cornyn noted the continued growth in military spending in Russia and China and said "the message we should send through our own defense budget must be clear: we seek an arms race with no nation -- but if any nation seeks an arms race with the United States, we intend to win it." After the speech, a Japanese Air Force officer and embassy attache, also distressed by the Chinese buildup, asked Cornyn whether anything could be done about the Obey Amendment, named after Democratic Rep. David Obey, that prohibits the sale of F-22s to foreign governments. Cornyn gave a vague answer that the United States "should work to share some of our weapons systems as we can," but the question demonstrates the extent to which other countries are feeling the pressure from China's rapid military modernization as well.
It's been clear for sometime that the Japanese government is interested in the F-22, and with the Obama administration's decision to cease production of the aircraft after procuring just four more copies this year, a Japanese buy would have the effect of keeping thousands of highly-skilled Americans employed and pumping tens of billions of dollars into the economy. Moreover, it would add maybe as many as 100 F-22s to the Pacific theater -- a huge asset if a conflict were to break out between the United States and China.
And the Japanese aren't the only ones looking to spend billions on U.S. weapons. Just two weeks ago, the President of Taiwan spoke via video link to an audience at CSIS. For the first time since his election last year, President Ma spoke publicly of the need for the United States to approve the sale of 66 F-16s to Taiwan. "We need the kind of high-performance jet fighters to replace our aging fleet." The F-16 line is also expected to close in the very near future barring a major, multi-billion dollar order like this one.
Cornyn is right that the Obama administration's stinginess on defense is a stunning contrast to the administration's complete disregard for fiscal responsibility domestically. The cuts are going to reduce this country's ability to project power, deter aggression, and act decisively in a future conflict. But, in the short-term, the cuts are going to be a heavy blow to the defense industry. Our allies are willing to pick up the slack on some of this spending and put high-tech hardware in a critical region. One hopes that some of administration's cuts will be restored by Congress, but President Obama could also keep production lines open and help restore the balance in the Pacific without spending a single additional penny.