Realism on Sequester, Jobs and National Security

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Realism on Sequester, Jobs and National Security

The national discussion about sequester and the defense budget has generated more hysterics and posturing than facts. As the sequester deadline nears and lawmakers are pressed to make decisions that will have long-term impact on our national security, some realism is in order. Realism demands, as a few conservatives have acknowledged, the need to include revenue as part of any deal to avoid sequester.

Realism also demands a factually-informed conversation about the role of military spending in creating and keeping jobs. Pentagon spending is and must remain primarily about keeping our country safe, not a jobs program. Economists tell us that spending on other sectors creates far more jobs per dollar – if the goal is government spending to create jobs, Pentagon spending is the most inefficient method. Military leaders and national security experts, in turn, are asking for realism about restoring the domestic economic and social foundations of our strength – a key component of national security. The current budget impasse imposes painful choices – but when watchdog groups are still identifying hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud, and some members of Congress are funding systems our military leadership does not want, taking Pentagon spending off the table is a failure of national security leadership.

Some conservatives admit the need for a balanced approach to avoiding sequester. As the sequester deadline gets closer, a couple conservatives have broken with party orthodoxy to support – however haltingly – the need for tax increases if large reductions in the defense budget are to be avoided. As U.S. News reports, “The posturing began when Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told the New York Times he has ‘crossed the Rubicon’ on the GOP stance that any federal debt deal exclude higher taxes.” Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush also broke with conservative dogma to offer a proposal with tax increases as part of a broader deficit reduction plan. The Wall Street Journal writes, “Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said he would support a federal budget deal that includes $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts, as a way of curbing deficits.” [US News, 6/4/12. WSJ, 6/1/12]

Defense spending is a poor jobs engine – money spent on other sectors creates 50 to 140 percent more jobs than military spending. As Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute found, “In terms of assessing the employment effects of military spending on the economy, the most important question is not the absolute number of jobs that are created by spending, for example, $1 billion. It is rather whether spending $1 billion on the military creates a greater or lesser number of jobs relative to spending the same $1 billion on alternative public purposes, such as education, health care or the green economy, or having consumers spend that amount of money in any way they choose. As we show, in comparison to these alternative uses of funds, spending on the  military  is  a  relatively poor source of job creation. Indeed, our research finds that $1 billion in spending on the military will generate about 11,200 jobs. By contrast, the employment effects of spending in alternative areas will be 15,100 for household consumption, 16,800 for the green economy, 17,200 for health care, and 26,700 for education. That is, investments in the green economy, health care and education will produce between about 50–140 percent more jobs than if the same amount of money were spent by the Pentagon.” As Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said earlier this year, defense manufacturing cannot primarily be “a job creator for America.” [Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, 12/11. Lindsey Graham via MSNBC, 2/14/12]

Domestic strength – economy, innovation, infrastructure, political cohesion – is an essential part of our national security.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey. “[W]e have come to grips fairly effectively, I think, with the interrelationship of the diplomatic, military and economic instruments. And if you’re wondering why this is being — our grand strategy is being renegotiated in terms of outcomes in the face of the nation’s budget crisis, it’s because, truly, we are only as strong as those three pillars — diplomatic, military and economic — can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.” [Martin Dempsey, 1/12/12]

Charles Kupchan, professor at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “[R]enewing the nation’s economic health is vital to advancing its national security… Reviving economic growth, reducing unemployment and income inequality, improving education—these are prerequisites for rebuilding the economic base on which national power rests and restoring the political consensus needed to guide U.S. statecraft. The first first principle of a progressive agenda is that political and economic renewal at home is the indispensable foundation for strength abroad.” [Charles Kupchan, Winter 2012]

Council on Foreign Relations Task Force Report on U.S. Education Reform and National Security. “The Task Force members believe America’s educational failures pose five distinct threats to national security: threats to economic growth and competitiveness, U.S. physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion. The Task Force does not deny America’s military might, but military might is no longer sufficient to guarantee security. Rather, national security today is closely linked with human capital, and the human capital of a nation is as strong or as weak as its public schools.” [CFR, 3/12]

Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Chris Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. “Over fifty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower explained that a nation’s security was directly tied to the health of its economy. He understood that if military spending rose too high it would ultimately undermine U.S. security, which he saw as a product of both military strength and economic strength. And he consistently resisted calls from the Joint Chiefs and some members of Congress to outspend the USSR. ‘Spiritual force, multiplied by economic force, multiplied by military force is roughly equal to security,’ he explained. For Eisenhower this was the ‘Great Equation.’ ‘If one of these factors falls to zero, or near zero, the resulting product does likewise.’” [Lawrence Korb and Chris Preble, 6/16/10]


What We’re Reading

Syria has declared American and other western ambassadors unwelcome in the country.

A former Libyan official has been charged for his alleged role in attacks on protesters last year.

The Iranian parliament re-elected the Ahmadinejad critic, Ali Larijani, as speaker.

Chinese officials have arrested activists to stop them from marking the anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

NATO has signed deals with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to use their territory for evacuating vehicles and military equipment from Afghanistan.

In the course of their summit on energy, trade, and foreign policy, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Hu Jintao called on the world to recommit to Kofi Annan’s peace plan for Syria.

Azerbaijan formally accused Armenia of killing five soldiers on their border.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urged India to take a larger role in the war in Afghanistan

Venezuelan authorities arrested a suspected Colombian drug kingpin.

Eleven people were killed in an attack on a Mexican drug rehabilitation center.


 Commentary of the Day

Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko explore the use of fear mongering in Mitt Romney’s foreign policy stances.

George Friedman explains the weaknesses of counterinsurgency.

The Christian Science Monitor editorial board argues that cyberattacks alter the nature of warfare and peacemaking.

Clyde Prestowitz and John Prout discuss the benefits of a German exit from the European Union.

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