Security Insiders: Defense-Budget Cuts Put the Military on a Dangerous Course

The planned cuts leave the military with too few resources to fight, experts say.

Soldiers with the United States Army's 3rd Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment are seen on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army prepare for a joint patrol with near Command Outpost Siah Choy on March 28, 2013 in Kandahar Province, Zhari District, Afghanistan.
National Journal
Sara Sorcher
April 7, 2014, 1 a.m.

The planned cuts to the Pentagon’s budget put the U.S. mil­it­ary on a dan­ger­ous course with too few re­sources to fight, a ma­jor­ity of Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders say.

“The threat is in­creas­ing as our de­fenses at­rophy,” one In­sider said. “Na­tion-build­ing at home is not a na­tion­al se­cur­ity strategy.”

The Pentagon’s $496 bil­lion budget re­quest pro­posed a series of con­tro­ver­sial cuts to meet the budget caps that Con­gress im­posed to re­duce fed­er­al spend­ing. De­fense of­fi­cials have warned that even tough­er choices await if steep­er re­duc­tions fol­low the next year, and Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s pool of na­tion­al se­cur­ity ex­perts is balk­ing at some of the planned re­duc­tions.

“Cut­ting the Army drastic­ally will jeop­ard­ize our abil­ity to fight an un­fore­seen ground war,” one In­sider said.

Rus­sia’s in­cur­sion in­to formerly Ukrain­i­an Crimea should be a wake-up call, sev­er­al In­siders said, about un­pre­dict­able threats in the fu­ture. “The U.S. has to be pre­pared for all types of con­flict,” one In­sider said, “even the Cold War kind that we thought had been con­signed to the ash heap of his­tory.”

A sig­ni­fic­ant 44 per­cent minor­ity dis­agreed, say­ing the de­fense-budget cuts put the mil­it­ary on an ac­cept­able path with its chan­ging mis­sion after an era of war in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan.

The de­fense budget, one In­sider said, will be “at un­pre­ced­en­tedly high peace­time levels, and, even with [Budget Con­trol Act]-level funds, well above the Cold War de­fense-budget av­er­age, in con­stant dol­lars. Totally ac­cept­able.”

Do the de­fense-budget cuts put the U.S. mil­it­ary on an ac­cept­able path with the chan­ging mis­sion after an era of war, or on a dan­ger­ous course with too few re­sources to fight?

(64 votes)

  • Dan­ger­ous course 56%
  • Ac­cept­able path 44%

Dan­ger­ous course

“The Pentagon’s plan ac­cepts the right de­gree of risk, but se­quest­ra­tion poses real dangers for Amer­ica and the world.”

“The se­quest­ra­tion budget is harm­ing our fu­ture stra­tegic pos­ture in many ways, which will end up skew­ing our fu­ture policy choices. There is link­age between the per­cep­tion of Amer­ica’s mil­it­ary strength and the ac­tions of bel­li­ger­ents. A strong spe­cial-ops force is re­l­at­ively cheap and looks good for movie plots. But this won’t scare or de­ter a Rus­sia, China, Ir­an, or North Korea.”

“The cuts mean that we can­not af­ford to main­tain our de­terrent in both the Middle East and East Asia. The budget did not even con­sider Europe. How can we ex­pect to main­tain sta­bil­ity in all three?”

“DOD could sus­tain cur­rent cap­ab­il­it­ies — and per­haps even thrive — if Con­gress made sig­ni­fic­ant cuts to the most-waste­ful spend­ing items, like base in­fra­struc­ture. But Con­gress’s re­fus­al to re­peal se­quest­ra­tion means that the Pentagon will be forced to make mind­less cuts that will leave us ill-pre­pared for fu­ture con­tin­gen­cies.”

“The DOD budget is fisc­ally driv­en. The [quad­ren­ni­al de­fense re­view] is a bad joke. Per­haps [Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir] Putin will shake them out of their leth­argy, but likely not.”

“Cuts in de­fense spend­ing are dan­ger­ous as long as DOD must fund bloated per­son­nel and phys­ic­al in­fra­struc­ture costs. If Con­gress al­lowed DOD to man­age its re­sources ef­fi­ciently, spend­ing could be re­duced.”

“All of the de­fense cuts in place and planned are so lim­it­ing our mil­it­ary cap­ab­il­ity that Putin will likely con­clude that we are not in any po­s­i­tion to stop his ef­forts. There will be oth­er po­ten­tial ag­gressors throughout the world as we with­draw from our pre­vi­ous role of be­ing the shin­ing light on the hill for coun­tries that want to see free­dom and demo­cracy.”

“No mat­ter the strategy, the money just isn’t there like it once was, but these de­fense cuts (com­bined with oth­er Amer­ic­an dis­en­gage­ment) are truly destabil­iz­ing.”

“The QDR and the budget don’t match. One is full of grand ob­ject­ives about glob­al lead­er­ship and re­bal­an­cing while the oth­er provides little re­sources with which to at­tain those ob­ject­ives. There is a stra­tegic im­bal­ance between the two.”

“Clearly dan­ger­ous — even so, we may have to live with it.”

“Some re­trench­ment is in or­der, but there is no rhyme or reas­on to the whole­sale cuts be­ing made in de­fense spend­ing today. The United States will rue the day it went down this path with so little stra­tegic con­sid­er­a­tion.”

“Four per­cent of GDP is an eas­ily de­fens­ible spend giv­en the U.S.’s role in the world, chan­ging and grow­ing glob­al threats, NATO’s uni­lat­er­al dis­arm­a­ment, and our weak Asi­an al­lies. Any­thing less may be polit­ic­ally ex­pedi­ent but dan­ger­ous in the face of a grow­ing peer threat such as China.”

“The mil­it­ary is already there. This is not a fu­ture pro­pos­i­tion but cur­rent con­sequence.”

“We do this after every ma­jor con­flict — have some kind of peace di­vidend that fouls up our cap­ab­il­it­ies. The Obama people com­bine this with a feel­ing of dis­missive to­ward for­eign policy and we are dig­ging our next pres­id­ent a big hole from which to climb.”

“The U.S. has glob­al vi­tal in­terests con­fron­ted by glob­al threats; Putin provides a timely wake-up call.”

“Se­quest­ra­tion cuts are cre­at­ing a ‘cred­ib­il­ity gap’ between Amer­ica’s lead­er­ship role and its abil­ity to ac­tu­ally lead. This path is fraught with danger as al­lies ques­tion U.S. will­ing­ness to de­fend their in­terests and as ad­versar­ies take great­er risk (and po­ten­tially mis­cal­cu­late) in fur­ther their own in­terests.”

Ac­cept­able path

“The mil­it­ary downs­iz­ing path is ac­cept­able with prop­er risk man­age­ment. Un­less Amer­ic­ans agree to provide ad­di­tion­al re­sources, there is no al­tern­at­ive to cut­ting the de­fense budget. Some in the polit­ic­al class seem will­ing to cut de­fense dis­pro­por­tion­ately un­til their de­mands for deep do­mest­ic spend­ing are met. That tac­tic is risky, and may be­come dan­ger­ous if the world situ­ation con­tin­ues to un­wind.”

“I’d like a third op­tion. The path is po­ten­tially ac­cept­able, but only if Con­gress ap­proves key changes like slow­ing down the rate of in­crease in mil­it­ary pay and be­ne­fits as well as au­thor­iz­ing an­oth­er round of base clos­ures. If Con­gress balks, they are the ones re­spons­ible for mov­ing to­ward a ‘dan­ger­ous course.’ “

“We should avoid fur­ther land-mass war­fare and es­pe­cially any hareb­rained “na­tion-build­ing.”

“What fights do people have in mind?”

“The prob­lem is not the level of re­sources, it’s how those re­sources are be­ing spent. If the De­fense De­part­ment could get the changes it is pur­su­ing in key areas — mil­it­ary com­pens­a­tion, [base clos­ures], re­tir­ing leg­acy weapons, etc. — it could field a suit­able force with­in the budget con­straints Con­gress has agreed to.”

“Hard­ware mat­ters less im­me­di­ately — un­less air and nav­al as­sets are de­graded to an ex­tent that we can­not ex­ert any pres­ence at all. State­craft mat­ters more. The de­bate is too simplist­ic and too ‘ob­vi­ous’ — play­ing to de­fense-ac­quis­i­tion lob­bies.”

“If we put some of that money in­to fix­ing our oth­er woe­fully broken and un­der­fun­ded in­stru­ments of for­eign policy strength: in­fra­struc­ture at home so we do not look to for­eign vis­it­ors like a broken coun­try; dip­lo­mat­ic heft; and a rad­ic­ally re­formed de­vel­op­ment ap­par­at­us.”

“What we need to do is up­date our na­tion­al strategy — what’s our goal? Only then can you fig­ure out the right amount of re­sources re­quired.”

“It all de­pends on Con­gress. The budget pro­pos­al as­sumes Con­gress won’t take its own non­stra­tegic hatchet to the whole thing, or put back in things that are not needed.”

“Sig­ni­fic­ant ad­di­tion­al re­struc­tur­ing, con­sol­id­a­tion, ac­quis­i­tion re­form, and base clos­ing are needed in or­der to bring de­fense spend­ing in­to pro­por­tion with our oth­er na­tion­al pri­or­it­ies.”

Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity In­siders Poll is a peri­od­ic sur­vey of more than 100 de­fense and for­eign policy ex­perts. They in­clude: Gor­don Adams, Charles Al­len, Mi­chael Al­len, Thad Al­len, Gra­ham Al­lis­on, James Bam­ford, Dav­id Barno, Milt Bearden, Peter Ber­gen, Samuel “Sandy” Ber­ger, Dav­id Ber­teau, Steph­en Biddle, Nancy Bird­sall, Mari­on Blakey, Kit Bond, Stu­art Bowen, Paula Broad­well, Mike Breen, Mark Brun­ner, Steven Bucci, Nich­olas Burns, Dan By­man, James Jay Cara­fano, Phil­lip Carter, Wendy Cham­ber­lin, Mi­chael Cher­toff, Frank Cil­luffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clem­ons, Joseph Collins, Wil­li­am Court­ney, Lorne Cran­er, Ro­ger Cres­sey, Gregory Dahl­berg, Robert Dan­in, Richard Dan­zig, Jan­ine Dav­id­son, Daniel Drezn­er, Mack­en­zie Eaglen, Paul Eaton, An­drew Ex­um, Wil­li­am Fal­lon, Eric Farns­worth, Jacques Gansler, Steph­en Gan­yard, Daniel Goure, Mark Green, Mike Green, Mark Gun­zinger, Todd Har­ris­on, John Hamre, Jim Harp­er, Marty Haus­er, Mi­chael Hay­den, Mi­chael Her­son, Pete Hoek­stra, Bruce Hoff­man, Linda Hud­son, Paul Hughes, Colin Kahl, Don­ald Ker­rick, Rachel Klein­feld, Lawrence Korb, Dav­id Kramer, An­drew Kre­pinev­ich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, Cedric Leighton, Mi­chael Leit­er, James Lind­say, Justin Lo­gan, Trent Lott, Peter Mansoor, Ron­ald Marks, Bri­an Mc­Caf­frey, Steven Metz, Frank­lin Miller, Mi­chael Mo­rell, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Shuja Nawaz, Kev­in Neal­er, Mi­chael Oates, Thomas Pick­er­ing, Paul Pil­lar, Larry Pri­or, Steph­en Rade­maker, Marc Rai­mondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Ro­ten­berg, Frank Rug­giero, Gary Sam­ore, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Steph­en Ses­t­an­ovich, Sarah Se­wall, Mat­thew Sher­man, Jen­nifer Sims, Su­z­anne Spauld­ing, James Stav­rid­is, Con­stan­ze Stelzen­müller, Ted Stroup, Guy Swan, Frances Town­send, Mick Train­or, Richard Wil­helm, Tamara Wittes, Dov Za­kheim, and Juan Za­r­ate.

What We're Following See More »
TAKING A LONG VIEW TO SOUTHERN STATES
In Dropout Speech, Santorum Endorses Rubio
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

As expected after earlier reports on Wednesday, Rick Santorum ended his presidential bid. But less expected: he threw his support to Marco Rubio. After noting he spoke with Rubio the day before for an hour, he said, “Someone who has a real understanding of the threat of ISIS, real understanding of the threat of fundamentalist Islam, and has experience, one of the things I wanted was someone who has experience in this area, and that’s why we decided to support Marco Rubio.” It doesn’t figure to help Rubio much in New Hampshire, but the Santorum nod could pay dividends down the road in southern states.

Source:
‘PITTING PEOPLE AGAINST EACH OTHER’
Rubio, Trump Question Obama’s Mosque Visit
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama’s decision to visit a mosque in Baltimore today was never going to be completely uncontroversial. And Donald Trump and Marco Rubio proved it. “Maybe he feels comfortable there,” Trump told interviewer Greta van Susteren on Fox News. “There are a lot of places he can go, and he chose a mosque.” And in New Hampshire, Rubio said of Obama, “Always pitting people against each other. Always. Look at today – he gave a speech at a mosque. Oh, you know, basically implying that America is discriminating against Muslims.”

Source:
THE TIME IS NOW, TED
Cruz Must Max Out on Evangelical Support through Early March
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

For Ted Cruz, a strong showing in New Hampshire would be nice, but not necessary. That’s because evangelical voters only make up 21% of the Granite State’s population. “But from the February 20 South Carolina primary through March 15, there are nine states (South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Carolina) with an estimated white-Evangelical percentage of the GOP electorate over 60 percent, and another four (Texas, Kansas, Louisiana, and Missouri) that come in over 50 percent.” But after that, he better be in the catbird’s seat, because only four smaller states remain with evangelical voter majorities.

Source:
CHRISTIE, BUSH TRYING TO TAKE HIM DOWN
Rubio Now Winning the ‘Endorsement Primary’
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Since his strong third-place finish in Iowa, Marco Rubio has won endorsement by two sitting senators and two congressmen, putting him in the lead for the first time of FiveThirtyEight‘s Endorsement Tracker. “Some politicians had put early support behind Jeb Bush — he had led [their] list since August — but since January the only new endorsement he has received was from former presidential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham.” Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that fueled by resentment, “members of the Bush and Christie campaigns have communicated about their mutual desire to halt … Rubio’s rise in the polls.”

Source:
ARE YOU THE GATEKEEPER?
Sanders: Obama Is a Progressive
20 hours ago
THE LATEST

“Do I think President Obama is a progressive? Yeah, I do,” said Bernie Sanders, in response to a direct question in tonight’s debate. “I think they’ve done a great job.” But Hillary Clinton wasn’t content to sit out the latest chapter in the great debate over the definition of progressivism. “In your definition, with you being the gatekeeper of progressivism, I don’t think anyone else fits that definition,” she told Sanders.

×