Governments are inherently run inefficiently without much regard for cost effectiveness. The US government is no different and this includes the Defense department. It is accurate that America will have to include defense cuts in order for us to get out of this fiscal disaster that is fast approaching as our debt continues to spiral. However, I believe the automatic $600 billion dollars that would be cut from our defense spending if the Super Committee cannot come to another agreement, is going too far. The main duty for any government is to provide for the safety and defense of its citizens and interests and these proposed cuts, which of course go on top of the hundreds of billions already cut by Secretary Gates and the Obama administration, are too drastic and are the wrong target for budget savings. Robert Samuelson brings some much needed perspective on this issue:
People who see military cuts as an easy way to reduce budget deficits forget that this has already occurred. From the late 1980s to 2010, America’s armed forces dropped from 2.1 million men and women to about 1.4 million. The downsizing — the “peace dividend” from the end of the Cold War — was not undone by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1990, the Army had 172 combat battalions, the Navy 546 ships and the Air Force 4,355 fighters; today, those numbers are 100 battalions, 288 ships and 1,990 fighters.
True, Iraq and Afghanistan raised defense budgets. As these wars conclude, lower spending will shrink overall deficits. But the savings will be smaller than many expect because the costs — though considerable — were smaller than they thought. From fiscal 2001 to 2011, these wars cost $1.3 trillion, says the Congressional Budget Office. That’s 4.4 percent of the $29.7 trillion of federal spending over those years. In 2011, the cost was about $159 billion, 12 percent of the deficit ($1.3 trillion) and 4 percent of total spending ($3.6 trillion).
Then Samuelson takes on a few myths about defense spending, including:
We can’t afford today’s military. Not so. How much we spend is a political decision. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the country was much poorer, 40 percent to 50 percent of the federal budget routinely went to defense, representing 8 percent to 10 percent of our national income. By 2010, a wealthier America devoted only 20 percent of federal spending and 4.8 percent of national income to the military. Social spending replaced military spending; but that shift has gone too far….
The Washington Post came out against the Super Committee defense cuts as well and highlighted some of the testimony of America’s military leaders:
Since the congressional supercommittee is reportedly at an impasse, let’s hope its members have used some of their idle time to catch up with the testimony of the nation’s military chiefs at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday. The chiefs were asked to assess what would be the consequences if $600 billion in across-the-board cuts were imposed on the defense budget — a sequestration currently required by law in the event the supercommittee fails to agree on a debt reduction plan or Congress fails to pass it.
Their answers were blunt: “Cuts of this magnitude would be catastrophic to the military,” testified Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, a former Iraq commander. “My assessment is that the nation would incur an unacceptable level of strategic and operational risk.”
“A severe and irreversible impact on the Navy’s future,” said Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations.
“A Marine Corps below the end strength that’s necessary to support even one major contingency,” said Marine Commandant James Amos.
“Even the most thoroughly deliberated strategy may not be able to overcome dire consequences,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz.
There is much waste and superfluous defense programs that should be found and uprooted. I have personally seen defense sector waste and am very sympathetic to the American tax payer who may feel that he is being taken for a ride far too often by its profligacy, but the current proposed cuts on the table would start digging into real and necessary defense programs, personnel, and technology. America’s budget deficits and debt are major threats to our future, but believing we can solve them by mostly cutting our defense spending is numerically and philosophically wrong. Numerically speaking, our financial position is in dire straits because of runaway entitlement spending, not a bloated defense sector. Philosophically speaking, well, I’ll let Robert Samuelson have the last word:
Defense spending is unlike other spending, because protecting the nation is government’s first job. It’s in the Constitution, as highways, school lunches and Social Security are not.