Politics Undercut Defense Bill

December 20, 2012

Editor’s note: the NSN Daily Update will be on hiatus beginning December 21 and will return in the New Year. We wish our readers a happy and safe holiday.

The FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) represents a disappointing lack of seriousness about both defense policy and budgeting. The bill mandates counter-productive measures on key national security priorities, including Iran, Guantanamo detainees, ineffective missile defense systems, and military healthcare. Additionally, the bill funds the Pentagon over the caps mandated by the Budget Control Act, including over $70 billion in systems that the Pentagon neither wants nor needs, putting at risk the ability of the Pentagon to align strategy with resources. The NDAA arrives on the same day Speaker Boehner is reportedly preparing an attempt to take the Pentagon off the table for next  year’s budgeting – raising questions about the seriousness of the entire debt reduction enterprise.

Concerning policy provisions:

Iran Sanctions: The final version of the bill mandates new sanctions on the energy, shipping, or shipbuilding sectors of Iran,” according to the conference report. However, the bill also includes the executive waivers that the White House requested, but those waivers are limited to only delaying implementation of the new sanctions. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor has said that the new measures “now threaten to undercut’ existing sanctions,” reports Bloomberg.

Guantanamo Detainees: The Hill reports that the bill keeps “a restriction on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States, but scaled back an open-ended ban in the Senate’s bill and kept it to one year, which has been the timeline in past versions of the authorization bill.” This continues to counter the national security imperative military and human rights leaders have identified to transfer detainees and move forward to close the prison and deprive our enemies of its symbolism.

East Coast Missile Defense: As the conference report states, the bill calls for an “assessment of potential future missile defense sites in the United States” on the East Coast. Yet, experts have consistently pointed out the infeasibility and inordinate expense of such an unneeded system. As Tom Collina of the Arms Control Association has explained, “the current [Ground-based Missile Defense] system is a lemon…Five of the seven intercept tests that have been conducted since November 2004 have failed, and there have been no successful intercept tests since 2008. Hardly reassuring,” despite a price-tag of $30 billion.

TRICARE Reform: The bill refused the Pentagon’s request for first steps in reforming TRICARE, the military healthcare system. This is unfortunate because, as Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan, writes, “the need for military health care reform is undeniable. Between fiscal year 2001 and fiscal year 2012, the military health care budget grew by nearly 300 percent and now consumes about 10 percent of the baseline defense budget. Most of this cost growth stems not from providing care for active-duty troops but from caring for the nation’s military retirees and their dependents.” The Pentagon’s proposal would have helped slow the growth of TRICARE fees by enacting modest steps such as pegging “enrollment fees to medical inflation to ensure the long-term fiscal viability of the Tricare program.”

NSN senior advisor Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton (U.S. Army, Ret.) adds, “If retired pay is adjusted for inflation, it seems reasonable that costs like Tricare also be adjusted. It also seems reasonable that we apply the same methodology we use while on active duty where more senior military pay more for services than junior military – cost scales for Tricare should be linked to retiree rank.  It is about fairness.”

[FY2013 NDAA Conference Report, 12/19/12. The Hill, 12/18/12. David Petraeus via NBC, 2/21/10. Tom Collina, 9/12/12. Lawrence Korb, 5/7/12. Paul Eaton, 12/20/12].

Concerning spending provisions:

Serious questions about fiscal responsibility.  Foreign Policy reports that, “The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provides $552 billion in defense spending and an additional $88 billion in ‘contingency’ war spending. That level is $1.7 billion above the president’s request, according to House Armed Services Committee, and above the spending limit set by last year’s Budget Control Act.” [Foreign Policy, 12/20/12]

Funding systems the Pentagon doesn’t want or need. Of the $544 billion base Pentagon Budget, the Hill reports that “defense lawmakers have inserted $74 billion toward a number of weapons programs ‘those that have outlived their usefulness’ to the department, Panetta said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.”

Investigating the systems included in that $74 billion, Walter Pincus writes, “For example, the conferees approved more than $500 million to continue the Global Hawk Block 30, high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft that have integrated imagery, radar and intelligence sensors. The Pentagon had decided to risk terminating this version of Global Hawk (there are others in use and being built) and noted that it would save $800 million in fiscal 2013 and $2.5 billion over the next five years. Two other congressional add-ons illustrate members’ desire to keep plant production lines open — and jobs filled. They were $136 million to upgrade the M1 Abrams tank and $140 million to modify the M2 Bradley armored vehicle. And $45 million was added to funds to purchase F-18s to hold open “the option of buying more” in fiscal 2014. In the nuclear area, Congress added $70 million toward construction of a $3.7 billion building for research on plutonium at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico that the administration wanted to delay for two more years.” [ The Hill, 12/18/12. Washington Post, 12/19/12]

More trouble ahead? Meanwhile, lack of fiscal discipline relating to Pentagon spending and budget caps is a broader problem and is continuing in other legislation. Defense News reports that  Speaker Boehner is preparing to  introduce a bill that “would prohibit the president from tapping the defense budget in 2013 to get under spending caps.” [Defense News, 12/20/12]

What We’re Reading

Rebels have thrust into a strategic town in Syria’s central Hama province pursuing a string of territorial gains to help cut army supply lines and cement a foothold in the capital Damascus to the south.

A UN investigatory panel has concluded the 21-month-old civil war in Syria is rapidly devolving into an “overtly sectarian” and ethnic conflict.

Russia declared that its goal is to end the bloody conflict in Syria, not help the nation’s embattled president cling to power at all costs.

Officials say a powerful roadside bomb has killed five civilians and two police officers near a police checkpoint in western Afghanistan.

Egypt’s opposition, facing defeat over a new constitution in a referendum this weekend, urged its supporters to reject the Islamist-backed charter and pledged to fight on to amend it during elections expected next year.

Southeast Asian nations and India vowed to step up cooperation on maritime security, a move that comes amid tension with China in the potentially oil and gas rich South China Sea.

An Islamist group behind public executions and amputations in northern Mali expands its reach, as the United Nations considers a West African plan to oust the Islamists with military force.

President Vladimir Putin supported a ban on Americans adopting Russian children in a feud over a U.S. human rights law which he said was poisoning relations.

Greece faces a “humanitarian crisis” over its mistreatment of asylum-seekers and migrants, according to a report by Amnesty International.

Rebels in Central African Republic seized another town in their rapid offensive, moving to within about 400 kilometers (250 miles) of the capital.

Commentary of the Day

Nina Hachigian and David Shorr write about U.S. foreign policymakers and their influence on worldly order.

Ian Bremmer analyzes Japan’s presidential elections, referring to them as the ‘Godzilla of all 2012 elections.’

Sung-Yoon Lee argues that newly elected South Korean President, Park Geun-Hye, will be remembered not for her gender, but for her policies in support of the oppressed North Korean civilians.

As debate over a possible Chuck Hagel nomination builds, Heather Hurlburt assesses where the “mainstream” of U.S. foreign policy lies.

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