First Defense Strategy, Now Defense Budget

January 26, 2012

Today Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey will preview the administration’s defense budget for the 2013 fiscal year. While the specifics aren’t yet available, early reports indicate relatively small cuts to military spending. Those cuts will be made according to the defense strategic guidance released earlier this month by the administration — guidance supported by security experts. Chairman Dempsey has made clear that the military is not victimized by the reductions. Compare the military’s leadership to Congress, where competing efforts to undo Congress’s earlier plan to reduce the deficit continue to complicate strategic planning. Finally, polling shows the public supports defense cuts as part of a broader effort to find the tradeoffs necessary to reduce the deficit.

The small, strategy-based cuts will see Pentagon spending resume growth before 2017. Former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired General James Cartwright  described the current situation: “Achieving the $487 billion in cuts was sufficiently doable that it didn’t require really hard decisions … Unless you force them into it, those hard decisions just don’t get made. Everybody buys everything they want.” Pentagon leaders will roll out details of the defense budget today. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “The proposed 2013 spending is $51 billion lower than an earlier administration spending plan of $576 billion.” In addition to the topline budget numbers, some details of how this will affect programs have begun to trickle out. The proposed changes are in line with the defense strategy released by the administration earlier this month and have the backing of security experts. Overall, as Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution explains, “The challenge is how to keep existing programs of record from strangling the next generation of technology.”

Reductions in ground forces. Reportedly, ground forces will move back toward their pre-Iraq and Afghanistan size, the Army from 570,000 troops to 490,000 troops; the Marines would fall to 175,000. Retired three-star General David Barno, former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, told Stars and Stripes, “I think those are both within the range of acceptable risk in the world we’re living in — if you build in the ability to grow the force rapidly.” [David Barno via Stars and Stripes, 1/25/12]

Removing two brigades from Europe. As the AP reports, “One major reduction, already announced by Panetta, will cut the number of Army brigades stationed in Europe from four to two. Other units would rotate in and out of the region as needed.” Such a move makes strategic sense. As Stars and Stripes reports, “Richard Betts, director of the International Security Policy program at Columbia University, said that burden shift is long overdue. A force drawdown in Europe will force those allies to take on more missions and responsibility, but still leave the U.S. with enough capability to respond to large-scale threats.” [AP, 1/25/12. Stars and Stripes, 1/25/12]

[James Cartwright via Reuters, 1/25/12. WSJ, 1/25/12. Peter Singer via Stars and Stripes, 1/25/12]

Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey: “We don’t feel victimized by this.” Dempsey noted in a speech earlier this month: “[W]e as service chiefs and joint chiefs, we don’t feel victimized by this. This is something that’s actually quite healthy for us in the sense that because we haven’t really had to confront this issue of ways, I think we’ve missed some opportunities in the past. And, look, if we haven’t learned anything over the last 10 years, where we’ve exhausted enormous resources and we’ve put men and women at risk and we’ve suffered great losses to achieve outcomes in the Mid-East and South Asia – if we haven’t learned anything over the last 10 years, shame on us.” That comment echoes the previous chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Michael Mullen, who said growth in the defense budget after 9-11 “hasn’t forced us to make the hard choices.” It hasn’t forced us to prioritize… It hasn’t forced us to do the analysis. And it hasn’t forced us to limit ourselves and get to a point or deciding, in a very turbulent world, what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do.  [Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12. Michael Mullen, 4/28/11]

Pentagon seeks to deal with security and budget concerns, some in Congress shrink from security and budget realities. Josh Rogin reports, “Defense budgeting has been even more convoluted and politicized than usual this year, mostly because of the looming $600 billion in mandatory defense cuts over ten years, known as the ‘trigger’ or ‘sequestration.’ Republicans in Congress are pledging to stop the trigger, but there are different competing plans on how to do so.” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and House Armed Services Committee Chair McKeon both offered proposals, while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who last January said “everything’s got to be on the table,” proposed rolling back all the Pentagon’s proposed cuts in addition to the sequester. [Josh Rogin, 1/25/12. Eric Cantor via Mother Jones, 1/4/11]

Public supports reducing military spending in the context of budget tradeoffs needed to reduce the deficit. Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy, writes: “What do average Americans say when they are faced with the budget tradeoffs on national security that policymakers face today? When polls ask in the abstract about defense spending, Americans are often reluctant to cut it. However when Americans are asked to consider the deficit and presented with tradeoffs, majorities cut defense and cut it more than any other area of the budget. Furthermore when they learn how much of the budget goes to defense, large majorities cut it, on average quite deeply… As respondents are given more information, support for reductions rises. When Quinnipiac University in March simply told respondents that defense, Social Security and Medicare together constitute more than half of the federal budget, 54% favored cutting defense spending.

And when they are asked to choose between defense and other programs, defense is consistently the most popular program to cut.  When CBS/NY Times, on several occasions over the least year asked respondents to choose where they would prefer to cut Medicare, social security or the military, 45-55 percent chose the military, 16-21 percent Medicare, 13-17 percent Social Security. If respondents are given choices between large and small cuts, overall support for cutting rises even more. In a Kaiser Foundation poll conducted in September, 67% favored some reduction in defense to address the deficit, with 28% favoring a major reduction and 39% a minor reduction.” [Steven Kull, 1/26/12]

What We’re Reading

The prime minister of Papua New Guinea is refusing to step down amidst a military mutiny.

Fighting approached Damascus as rebels engaged government troops just outside the Syrian capital.

Philippine diplomats and defense officials visit Washington to negotiate a larger U.S. military presence on the island nation.

Doctors Without Borders ended its work in detention centers in the Libyan city of Misrata because detainees have been tortured and denied critical medical care.

The International Criminal Court announced it would prosecute Kenya’s finance minister and the head of the civil service over violence following disputed elections, prompting the leaders to resign from their posts.

Questions surround the true motives of recent actions taken by Iran’s central bank in the face of rising inflation and sanctions.

Egypt’s stock market experienced significant gains as foreign investors returned on the anniversary of the country’s revolution.

The new UN representative to Afghanistan encouraged Afghans to embrace a peace process in which all members of society have a voice.

South Korea staged live-fire military drills from Yeonpyeong Island, which was shelled by the North in 2010.

The UK and Argentina are engaged in a verbal dispute over the Falklands Islands, ahead of the 30 year anniversary of the war in April.

Commentary of the Day

Happymon Jacob examines the India-Pakistan nuclear balance.

Michael Penfold thinks Hugo Chávez will have a credible challenger in October’s presidential elections.

Bloomberg asks if the West can get its economic groove back.

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