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
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.

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