RELEASE: New Report: Strategic Priorities Must Guide Reshaping of Pentagon Spending

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RELEASE: New Report: Strategic Priorities Must Guide Reshaping of Pentagon Spending

 Washington, DC — Earlier today, the National Security Network released an important new report, Reshaping Pentagon Spending and Capabilities: Setting Priorities for the Future, arguing that the debate over Pentagon spending levels must initially focus on identifying and prioritizing the serious 21st-century threats currently facing the nation. In order for Congress to effectively guide the allocation of taxpayer dollars, the Pentagon must clearly communicate its top strategic priorities, stop protecting flawed and antiquated weapons systems designed to respond to the threats of the Cold War and pursue low-risk tradeoffs that allow investment in the tools needed to advance U.S. interests in a changing security environment.


According  to the New York Times, last week, five of the Pentagon’s former chief operating officers joined together to push for a comprehensive “bottom up” review of all Pentagon programs, including weapons systems, saying that sequestration provides us with an “opportunity to accomplish cuts that have long been delayed, after a decade in which the American national security budget has nearly doubled.”

“National security experts agree that to effectively draw down Pentagon spending while also better preparing the military to meet future challenges, Pentagon and Congressional leaders need to get serious about setting forward-looking priorities to guide funding choices,” said Bill French, author of the National Security Network report. “The United States must adapt its military to a changing security environment while strengthening the economic foundations of security. By reshaping spending and capabilities to prioritize the needs of deterring aggression and coercion, the Defense Department can adapt to the increasing ability of some foreign militaries in areas of vital national interest, especially in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, while reducing costs.”

According to National Security Network’s Bill French, the key questions that should guide reshaping the Pentagon are: 

  1. What changes in the security environment most affect U.S. national security interests?
  2. How should the military adapt to protect U.S. interests and what are the top funding priorities to ensure the capability to do so?
  3. What funding tradeoffs within the Defense Department should be made to enable these changes while also reducing overall Pentagon spending in keeping with the difficult fiscal environment?

In answering these questions, the report focuses on challenges in the security environment that continue to go unaddressed as defense contractors and Pentagon brass fight to protect massive budgets and out-of-date weapons systems. These pressing considerations include: 

First, the rise of the Asia-Pacific and the increasing capabilities of foreign militaries. While the United States currently spends more on the Pentagon than the next fourteen countries combined, both trends increase the risks of interstate conflict and coercion, holding America’s interests in a peaceful and prosperous global system at risk. These risks have gone significantly under addressed over the past decade focused on counterterrorism and nation building.

Second, the U.S. military should emphasize deterring conflict and coercion between states. A renewed emphasis will require prioritizing capabilities that respond efficiently to the gains being made by foreign militaries. However, deterring conflict and coercion will depend primarily on diplomatic and economic tools with the Defense Department playing a supporting role.

Third, these priorities are compatible with reductions of $500 billion to the Pentagon’s base budget (pre-sequestration) over the next decade if they are made strategically. Nonetheless, implementing such reductions while also ensuring adequate funding for priorities will require tradeoffs in less-critical areas of military capability and cost-saving reforms.

The priorities should guide the way forward as debate about Pentagon spending levels continues. The bottom line is that Pentagon spending can be sizably reduced while better preparing the Defense Department to meet future challenges as part of a more balanced whole of government approach to security policy. The result is strengthened economic and national security that is sustainable, affordable and forward-looking. 


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Reshaping Pentagon Spending and Capabilities