Early Budgets Don’t Match Security Priorities

May 10, 2012

This year’s national security budget process has set new lows for disregarding the best advice of military and national security leaders and contravening members’ pledges of fiscal responsibility and strategic focus. Coming out of committee, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2013 wades back into how we try terror suspects and tries to short-circuit both the transition in Afghanistan and negotiations with Iran, while funding entire defense systems the Pentagon says it doesn’t want and experts say don’t work.

Meanwhile, a proposal for funding the civilian tools of national power slashed more than 12 percent from last year’s levels – a funding trajectory directly in opposition to the advice of security leaders. Amid the funding battles, some lawmakers have continued the trend of using a funding bill to legislate policy decisions. Here, not only is the vehicle wrong – the NDAA should be the budgetary blueprint for our national defense, not a policy document – but many of the policies purposefully reject bipartisan consensus on the issues.

Congress funds projects the Pentagon doesn’t want or need. Congressional Quarterly reports: “In working on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, House Armed Services Republicans have added billions of dollars in the coming years for facilities and capabilities that the military says it does not need, effectively flaunting a deficit reduction law many of them supported. On Wednesday, the panel approved an amendment that would compel the Defense Department to continue planning and building a costly and controversial nuclear weapons modernization facility in New Mexico officials hope to defer for several years. This comes on top of a provision added to the bill (HR 4310) that would compel the Pentagon to build an antiballistic missile battery on the East Coast of the United States.” Experts say both these projects are unnecessary.

 East Coast Missile Defense site. As CQ reports, Congress wants to fund this site “despite the fact that the general in charge of defending the United States from missile attack says the facility isn’t needed… Pentagon officials insist that the proposed missile site is definitely not in their plans. When Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, asked Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., commander of both the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace and Defense Command, during a March hearing whether a third missile site is needed, the missile defense chief was unequivocal. ‘Chairman, today’s threats do not require an East Coast missile field, and we do not have plans to do so,’ Jacoby said.” [CQ, 5/5/12]

Nuclear weapons facility known as “CMRR.” Joel Rubin of the Ploughshares Fund explains, “Take, for example, the Cold War era plutonium production facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, known as the CMRR.  Good-government watchdog groups consistently identify this facility as the poster child for waste in the nuclear weapons complex. The facility is simply not needed to maintain an effective and safe nuclear arsenal. The nuclear labs can efficiently meet the program’s essential missions with current facilities – sparing CMRR’s lifetime $6 billion expense.” [Joel Rubin, 5/9/12]

Drones. “The bill restored several cuts that the Pentagon had sought, including for the Global Hawk Block 30 drone and reductions in the Air National Guard.” [The Hill, 5/10/12]

[CQ, 5/9/12]

Policy riders in the bill aimed at fixing last year’s mistakes, while conservative lawmakers offer new mistakes.

Bipartisan efforts to fix FY 2012 NDAA’s mistakes on detainees.  Raha Wala of Human Rights First explains an attempt to clarify problematic legislation from last year, a move made necessary by last year’s policy riders: “Last year, in pushing through the defense authorization bill, Congress enacted a set of provisions on detainee policy that were a fundamental affront to the rule of law and our national security… [T]he Smith amendment picks up where the Congress failed during the NDAA debate [for FY 12]. The Smith amendment would ban indefinite military detention, and military commission trials, within the United States. It would also repeal, in full, the mandatory military custody requirement, and ensure that the military will not be forced to take custody of any terrorism suspects. Importantly, it would put forth civilian courts, established under Article III of the Constitution, as the lawful, appropriate, and time-tested method for handling terrorism threats in the United States.” The Smith amendment is not yet in the bill. [Raha Wala, 5/9/12]

Short-circuiting transition in Afghanistan. Politico’s Morning Defense reports, “A source tells us to ‘expect lots of drama’ over a provision in McKeon’s bill that says the United States should ‘maintain a credible troop presence’ in Afghanistan after 2014.” Estimates have put McKeon’s preferences at 68,000 troops in Afghanistan until 2015. Such a plan runs counter to experts’ advice on the need for transition. [Morning Defense, 5/9/12. NSN, 5/2/12]

Trying to tie the president’s hands on Iran. In the middle of a process of negotiations with Iran, Congress is trying to tie the president’s hands by limiting his options. The NDAA states, “diplomatic overtures, sanctions, and other non-kinetic actions toward Iran have not caused the Government of Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons program,” even though robust sanctions have brought Iran to the table, and experts agree that Iran has been weakened as a result of sanctions that were made possible by deft diplomacy. [NDAA Chairman’s Mark, 5/7/12. NSN, 4/16/12]

Meanwhile, Congress continues to slash the State and USAID funding that national security leaders say is essential to our national security and chronically underfunded. Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reported earlier this week, “The House Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee has released its fiscal 2013 appropriations legislation, which would cut billions from the president’s request for a range of key international programs… If enacted, the legislation would represent a 12 percent cut from the administration’s $54.71 billion budget request. When war costs are taken out of the equation, the House proposal would represent a 14 percent cut to the administration’s request. The House proposal would also cut $5 billion or 9 percent from the funding levels enacted in fiscal 2012.” Those funding levels move directly in the wrong direction, according to national security leaders.

Five former secretaries of state: “Now is not the time for America to retreat from the world” by cutting the International Affairs Budget. Secretaries Madeleine Albright, Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz: “As former Secretaries of State from both Democratic and Republican administrations, we urge you to support a strong and effective International Affairs Budget. We believe these programs are critical to America’s global leadership and represent strategic investments in our nation’s security and prosperity…  Now is not the time for America to retreat from the world, which is why we need a strong and effective international affairs budget.” [Albright, Kissinger, Powell, Rice and Shultz, 11/14/11]

 [Josh Rogin, 5/8/12]

 What We’re Reading

A bomb hit a Syrian military convoy leading the head of a UN observer mission, injuring eight Syrian soldiers though UN monitors appeared unharmed.

A low-level administrative court ruled in favor of a lawsuit ordering the suspension of Egypt’s presidential election, though the decision will likely be overturned.

U.S. drone strikes killed eight al Qaeda militants in southern Yemen.

Jordan’s parliament enacted a law to encourage a multiparty political system that would permit parties to compete in elections based on political agendas.

The Israeli parliament endorsed a coalition agreement between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and the opposition Kadima party of Shaul Mofaz.

Brazil and Turkey’s defense chiefs pledged to strengthen military relations with one another.

Officials in Afghanistan acknowledge that the country will have to contend with greater security challenges as it shifts from foreign to Afghan forces.

Skeptical Algerians abstained in large numbers from a parliamentary election which the country’s ruling elite hoped would restore its credibility after Arab Spring revolts.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel disregarded demands from rivals for economic stimulus policies that rely on new debt, telling parliament that growth on credit would only plunge Europe into a more serious crisis.

Peru and Japan vowed to strengthen their political and economic ties.

 Commentary of the Day

Alain Sherter argues that France’s newly-elected Hollande should combine pro-growth policies with a prolonged program to lower the nation’s debt.

Stewart M. Patrick warns of the dangers of a global water crisis.

Samuel Sherraden says that despite the perception of China as confident about potential economic growth, the country’s economy is slowing because of weaker demand for its exports in Europe.

Micah Zenko distinguishes among uses of military force depending on whether the political purpose is deterrence, compellence, or simply destruction.


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