Defense Cuts: What’s The Frame of Reference?

Posted: May 20, 2011 in Songs of Space and Nuclear War
Tags: , , ,

Cut, cut, what to cut? 

This time the what-to-cut presentation comes from Michael O’Hanlon, writing at Politico.

Gates already intends to scale back the size of the standing Army and Marine Corps as the Afghanistan campaign begins winding down. In rough numbers, the combined active-duty strength of about 770,000 would decline by some 45,000. But this is still at least 50,000 larger than under President Bill Clinton.

Yeah, but in presenting the baseline as the Army during the Clinton years, O’Hanlon fails to address the fact they’d been hugely drawn down following the “peace dividend.” 

In those years the United States was coming off the mighty, mighty beat down of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, to say nothing of the Cold War victory which left us as the world’s lone and unchallenged superpower.

We would gradually have to return to 1990s troop strength to avoid making all the cuts from acquisition accounts, because the military is already using weaponry that is far older than it should be.

True.  The only real (that is, immediate) draw down wiggle room is in the military personnel and O&M accounts.  Investment accounts need to be charged-up because the ops tempo has worn things out; similarly there are allies who are also buying what we have in the pipeline as well as punitive termination fees Uncle Sam has to pay when turning programs off. 

Practicing counterinsurgency is all fine and dandy, but we need to invest in other systems of consequence; those that can counter potential adversaries who can wreck our economy (err…worsen the wreck?) and way of life in short order.

Returning to these [Clinton-era] force levels would hardly amount to gutting defense. Clinton-era ground forces were considered adequate by four defense secretaries (two from each party) — Les Aspin, William Perry, William Cohen and Donald Rumsfeld. They were not adequate for two simultaneous and sustained wars — but the past decade shows that they could be increased fairly quickly (even if Rumsfeld resisted far too long).

It depends what you mean by “hardly,” “gutting defense,” and “fairly quickly.”  Again, the threat picture to the United States and its allies in the Clinton years was at half-century (and maybe longer) low.

The bottom line: Making deeper defense cuts will mean a real loss of capabilities and more risk. That risk may be, and probably is, acceptable if the defense cuts are part of a broader effort of deficit reduction and economic renewal that strengthens our longer-term national power and security, meaning it should include revenue increases and entitlement cuts.

No kidding: you generally get what you pay for and military capability is little different than anything else.  National security “risk” runs far deeper than defense alone and begins with the economy.

  1. […] Zakaria uses a particular time frame regarding his glorious defense cuts, the growth seen in the last decade.  Why?  Because the last decade was when the post-9/11 national security plus-up began (which was itself a rejection of the drawdown of the 1990s when the Defense Department carried much of the “peace dividend” burden).  Zakaria ignores the reason for the funding growth in the first place, the post-9/11 response intended to enhance national security.   […]

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