EDITOR'S NOTE: This is among a series of new National Journal Insiders Polls that explore the policy and political dynamics surrounding key issues related to national security, the economy, energy and the environment.
In a new survey of National Journal National Security Insiders, two out of three respondents said they would support deeper spending cuts than those proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, with the most backing cuts in weapons-acquisition programs.
Thirty-three of 51 respondents agreed that the Pentagon’s budget should be cut further than the reductions Gates proposed in January, when he announced its biggest cut in the post-9/11 era. Gates proposed cutting $78 billion from Pentagon accounts over the next five years. His proposal, which includes increasing health insurance fees paid by retired veterans and eliminating weapons systems such as the Marine Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, reflects “in [his] view, the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary.” Eighteen of National Journal's Insiders said there should be no further cuts.
Several Insiders said such cuts were necessary -- or simply more permissible -- given the debt and deficit situation, as well as the end of U.S. engagement in Iraq and gradual decline in Afghanistan.
National Security Insiders offered opinions from both extremes: One said the Pentagon budget could “easily” be cut in half and still keep the country secure, and the savings better put toward fighting America’s “real threats” that include “crumbling infrastructure” and a “decrepit educational system.” Another argued that cutting the budget is “the last thing that should be done, [as] the base budget is too small.” Still others were more moderate, agreeing the budget could be trimmed further, though with only “very limited further cuts until Afghanistan winds down.”
Sixty-one percent of respondents said further reductions in weapons acquisition should be considered, with one respondent commenting that “flying platforms are too expensive for the utilization.” The second most-cited platform for cuts was in force structure, with 51 percent, followed by personnel (49 percent), and cuts in readiness trailing (29 percent). About a quarter of all National Security Insiders said cuts should be considered in “all of the above,” and their votes were individually added to each of the four options; 11 said “none of the above.”
Now that the post-9/11 defense build-up is over, do you think the Pentagon’s budget should cut even further than already proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates?
- Yes 65%
- No 35%
Yes: “Ebbing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wars will save the most money, but far bolder efficiency measures -- Gates has made a noble but timid start -- could help a lot.”
Yes: “Yes, especially given the debt and deficit situation, the end of our military engagement in Iraq, and the gradual decline in Afghanistan. Also, having doubled over the past decade, as Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike] Mullen has said (January 6, 2011), the Pentagon has lost budget and planning discipline and is no longer making priority-driven choices or implementing sound management. Even with 15 percent less than currently projected over the next decade, the U.S. would still have the best, most global, most technologically advanced military in the world, and it would be more efficient in the bargain.”
Yes: “Without spending a great deal of time counting tanks, I can assure you that we could easily cut the Pentagon budget at least in half and remain a very secure country. A portion of that saved money could then be put toward fighting America’s real threats, including cancer, heart disease, a crumbling infrastructure, a decrepit educational system, and other areas far more important than launching new wars or battling the overhyped ‘war on terrorism.’ ”
No: “If anything, the events of the past couple of months in the Middle East and North Africa have underscored how unstable and unpredictable the world is today -- and the high-stakes consequences of that instability and uncertainty.… As Vegetius famously said: ‘If you want peace, prepare for war.’ That seems no less true today than it was in ancient times.”
No: “That’s the last thing that should be done. The base budget is too small. To provide for the requirements of a fully funded force structure grounded in strategic requirements, the core defense budget would need to average about $720 billion from fiscal years 2012 through 2016. Compared to the president’s proposed defense budget -- excluding war spending -- in FY 2012, Congress would need to add slightly more than $27 billion in budget authority to initiate the recovery process.”
In which of these areas do you think further defense cuts should be considered?
- Personnel 49%
- Force Structure 51%
- Weapons Acquisitions 61%
- Readiness 29%
- None of the above 24%
- Volunteered Additional Response 6%
Weapons acquisition: “Some, especially manned aviation.”
Force structure: “[We] need a lighter, nimble force -- move toward more battalions and brigades, with fewer divisions.”
Personnel: “The Pentagon needs to reduce costs through efficiency moves. This means reducing the government workforce, the size of depots and the use of uniform personnel in positions that could be filled by civilians. Expand use of Performance Based Logistics and use of commercial best practices.”
All BUT personnel: “Cutting personnel will be hard, given all we’ve taken on, so that will happen last. All the others are probably unavoidable. Obama has had an antinuclear bent out of idealism, but now it will be strengthened by necessity. Tens of billions [of dollars] to sustain a Cold War deterrence posture? That will look like an inviting area for cuts.”
All of the Above: “Budget cuts should come in all areas. The Defense Business Board says 340,000 uniformed personnel perform commercial-like work; it should be shifted to the private sector via competitive sourcing.… Military health care and commissaries could be abolished in locales having private-sector alternatives. A lot more aerial-tanker services could be acquired commercially at much lower cost than buying or leasing tanker aircraft.”
All of the Above: “The F-35 should be trimmed or cancelled; the VA-class submarine [should be] slowed; carriers should be slowed; the Army vehicle program should be simplified.”
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign policy experts. They include:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, Dave Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, Pat Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Frank Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Stephen Sestanovich, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the March 28, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.