It Is Time for Discipline, Defense
Restore order at the department and bring defense budgets back into line
November 21, 2011
America has never been militarily safer than it is today. No nation poses an existential threat to the country. The threat of a terrorist attack is diminishing. Cyber-warriors can attack the Internet, but our defenses against this challenge are largely civilian. We're not about to invade Iran or Pakistan. And a rising China is somewhere future, with a military we currently dwarf.
Today, the American military is the only one in the world that can steam, fly, and deploy globally. It is the only military that has truly global logistics, infrastructure, communications, transportation, and intelligence. It has more ships than any country, more tanks, more aircraft, more military transportation, and refueling capability. No other country, not even China, attempts to build such a global force.
Nor is it a "worn out" force. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, was asked in July what it would take to return to the 2001 level of military readiness and he told the truth: Ten years of fighting "gives you a level of readiness … that has never been as high as it is today. … We never want to go back."
Nor is it burdened with worn-out equipment that now needs to be repaired. At a cost of $1 trillion over the past 10 years, we have completely upgraded all the Army's vehicles, bought more ammunition than we expected, acquired a whole new fleet of F-22s and C-17 cargo aircraft for the Air Force, and a lot of new naval vessels.
Today we have a big security problem: a deep economic recession combined with a yawning federal deficit. Our national debt, as the recently retired chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has said, is "the most significant threat to our national security."
It is time to discipline defense, along with the rest of the federal budget, and target tax and spending policies for an economic recovery. The defense budget has more than doubled over the past decade, rising to constant-dollar levels unprecedented, in peace or war, since 1945. This surge of funds meant, as Admiral Mullen put it in January 2011, that the Defense Department "lost our ability to prioritize, to make hard decisions, to do tough analysis, to make trades."
Now it is time to restore order at the department and bring defense budgets back into line. There are lots of good ideas about how to do that, sensible ideas that do not "hollow out" the military. At this moment of transition out of Iraq, we need to re-look at how we use the military. We should not be asking the military to "do more with less," we should be asking them to do less with less, to set mission priorities in a safer world.
The challenge is doing a build-down right. We have done three of them since the end of the Korean War and we have not "gotten them wrong." The build-down of the 1990s left in place a force that used Saddam Hussein as a speed bump in 2003.
If the Defense Department's projected plan for the next 10 years were lowered by $1 trillion, that would be a 17 percent reduction in resources, pretty modest as defense build-downs go. The last three build-downs have lowered defense budgets 30 percent in constant dollars.
It is time to stop whining and get down to business. An orderly build-down would be good for the nation, for a disciplined Defense Department, for the budget, and for the economy. And it would leave in place a globally dominant, streamlined military, plenty capable of serving the nation's security needs.