Romney’s Defense Spending Plans

February 8, 2012

As the White House prepares to release its budget on Monday, the next few days will likely see conservatives criticizing current plans for military spending while outlining their own views. Experts say attacks are more about politics than security-particularly since the budget numbers grow from a plan that was passed by Congress and paired with a comprehensive strategy review. Experts across ideologies are zeroing in on Mitt Romney’s plans to increase military spending at a time of tight budgets with little strategic rationale or indications of how new weapons would be paid for.

Experts say attacks on current defense spending plans-which were passed by Congress and paired with strategy-are misguided.

Loren Thompson, conservative budget expert at the Lexington Institute. “[T]here’s an obvious contradiction in the conservative position, because the same people who want to preserve the current, robust level of military outlays also want to reduce the budget deficit without raising taxes… So let’s hear it AEI, Heritage, et. al. — what’s your plan? Do you want to raise taxes or just keep borrowing money from China? If you don’t want to do either, inquiring minds want to know how you propose that a country with five percent of the world’s people and 25 percent of the world’s economic output can continue generating nearly half of global military expenditures.” [Loren Thompson, 1/30/12]

Three-quarters of the National Journal Insiders Poll. “Three-quarters of National Journal’s National Security Insiders said the Obama administration’s plan to cut the Pentagon budget was a smart decision driven by the end of the Iraq war and the nation’s current fiscal crisis, dismissing criticism by defense hawks who maintain that chopping nearly $500 billion over 10 years could undermine the military’s capabilities.” [National Journal Insiders Poll, 2/7/12]

Robert Gates, former Bush and Obama secretary of defense. “[W]e live in the real world.  Absent a catastrophic international conflict or new existential threat, we are not likely to return to Cold War levels of defense expenditures, at least as a share of national wealth anytime soon.  Nor do I believe we need to.” [Robert Gates, 5/24/11]

Colin Powell, former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “As we draw down from Iraq and as over the next several years as we draw down from Afghanistan, I see no reason why the military shouldn’t be looked at. When the Cold War ended 20 years ago, when I was chairman and Mr. Cheney was secretary of Defense, we cut the defense budget by 25 percent. And we reduced the force by 500,000 active duty soldiers, so it can be done. Now, how fast you can do it and what you have to cut out remains to be seen, but I don’t think the defense budget can be made, you know, sacrosanct and it can’t be touched.” [Colin Powell, 1/23/11]

Romney’s plan would create massive increases in military spending with no strategic rationale or plan for how to pay for more spending.

$40 billion for ships, no explanation of what kind or what they would do. Mitt Romney’s foreign policy white paper promises, “He will put our Navy on the path to increase its shipbuilding rate from nine per year to approximately fifteen per year.” But as Spencer Ackerman of Wired writes, Romney hasn’t explained the strategic rationale behind his proposal. Ackerman writes, “Just a few problems, the seapower wonks say: Romney has given no indication of what kinds of ships he wants built; he doesn’t explain what they should do; and his proposal might give a deficit-obsessed D.C. sticker shock.” The plan is also very expensive. Ackerman writes, “[J]udging by the Navy’s current wishlist (mostly, more destroyers and attack submarines) the analysts guesstimated that Romney’s plan would most likely cost about $7 or $8 billion a year, on top of the Navy’s estimated $19.8 billion shipbuilding budget. Since the Defense Department budgets for five years at a time, that would add $35 to $40 billion to the shipbuilding budget at a time of austerity.” [Romney White Paper, 10/7/11. Spencer Ackerman, 10/17/11]

Adding 100,000 troops to the force, even with Iraq over and Afghanistan winding down. As the Boston Globe reported last fall, Romney “said he would add 100,000 active duty troops to ease the frequent troop rotations in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan.” This goes against the advice of experts, as well as the Pentagon strategy. As David W. Barno, Nora Bensahel, and Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security wrote last fall, “[L]arge active-duty ground forces — which are expensive to maintain, especially at high readiness levels — will become less necessary as the United States continues to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq. With an increased focus on the vast Asian theater, there is less reason to maintain today’s high levels of ground forces, which are hard to move quickly in large numbers. Cutting ground forces also makes sense for another reason: it is easier to reverse in the future than canceling naval and air modernization programs. The Pentagon should therefore return the Army and Marine Corps to roughly pre-9/11 levels, a reduction of about 56,000 troops compared to current Pentagon plans, starting in 2014 when the majority of U.S. troops have left Afghanistan. Doing so would save approximately $40 billion by 2021.” In addition, as Robert Gates warned last summer, the quickest way to a hollow military is refusing to reduce force structure as budgets go down: “If we are to avoid a hollowing effect, this process will need to address force structure… I’ve said repeatedly that I’d rather have a smaller, superbly capable military then a larger, hollow, less capable one.” [Mitt Romney via AP, 10/6/11. David W. Barno, Nora Bensahel, and Travis Sharp, 11/2/11. Robert Gates, 5/24/11]

A historical call to peg defense spending to four percent of GDP is “math, not strategy.” Mitt Romney’s plan is, to use Robert Gates’s phrase, “math, not strategy.” In his white paper, he promises to create a floor for defense spending at four percent of GDP without outlining a strategic rationale for these increases. As Michael Linden of the Center for American Progress writes, “Under current projections (with the adjustments described above), defense spending will be about $560 billion in 2016, or about 2.9 percent of GDP. But Romney has promised to ensure defense spending never drops lower than 4 percent of GDP. Keeping that promise will add more than $200 billion in additional federal spending in 2016.” [Romney White Paper, 10/7/11. Michael Linden, 12/9/11]

What We’re Reading

A new study shows terrorism by American Muslims to be small, declining, and little or no threat to U.S. society.

Russia’s foreign minister announced that Syria’s vice president would seek to open talks with opposition forces in the country and asked Western and Arab leaders to support these initiatives.

A European Union official has announced that the member states plan to implement harsher sanctions on Syria in response to the violent conflict that has plagued the country.

Iraq’s Sunni ministers returned to the cabinet, but the country’s political crisis is not over.

NATO, Pakistani and Afghan military officials held talks to improve the coordination of operations on the Afghan border.

A one and half month-long closure of two key NATO supply routes via Pakistan has resulted in job losses for thousands of Pakistanis.

Iranian lawmakers voted to compel President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to testify on alleged irregularities in his handling of the country’s struggling economy.

Japan and the United States agreed to move forward with plans to transfer thousands of U.S. troops out of Okinawa.

Venezuelan governor Henrique Capriles is expected to win an opposition primary, paving the way for him to face Hugo Chavez in October’s presidential election.

A Ugandan lawmaker has reintroduced a divisive bill that makes engaging in some homosexual activities punishable by death.

Commentary of the Day

John Limbert examines alternate paths to U.S. goals with Iran.

Yanis Varoufakis argues that both German and Greek politicians misled voters in agreeing to a flawed rescue package for Greece.

Andres Oppenheimer laments an overemphasis on fears of Iranian presence in Latin America, urging instead a focus on enhancing U.S. economic ties with the region.

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