FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Does the Pentagon Really Need Another $20 Billion?

by WILLIAM D. HARTUNG

The deal struck this week by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray has been well received by President Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, the defense industry, and many people in the media and the public at large who are tired of Washington’s budgetary gridlock. No one is popping any champagne corks, but there is a widespread feeling that any agreement that can eliminate the uncertainty that has dominated Washington budgetary debates over the past two years is worth supporting.

But the Ryan/Murray deal can be improved. The Congress and the president should rethink the need to give the Pentagon over $20 billion more in fiscal 2014. More than enough money is available under the budgetary caps established in current law to provide a robust and forward-looking defense of the United States without this proposed increase. At roughly $480 billion for the Pentagon budget proper — and nearly $500 billion when nuclear weapons spending at the Department of Energy is factored in — current plans are already about $100 billion per year higher than the Cold War average.

One could argue that we live in a vastly different world than we did during the Cold War, and that there is no reason that we should be spending a similar amount now as we did then. This is absolutely true. The world is considerably safer than it was when the U.S. was faced off against a superpower adversary that had the capability to end life as we know it, and Pentagon spending should reflect that fact.

If anything, traditional military challenges to the United States have been diminishing in the last few years. The Iraq war is over, and the war in Afghanistan is winding down. There is a good chance that Iran’s nuclear weapons program will be stopped through negotiations, not force. Al Qaeda is on the wane, and no foreign terrorist group has been able to launch a significant attack on U.S. soil for over a decade. There are still serious security challenges out there, to be sure, but if we can’t address them with a budget of nearly half a trillion dollars per year there is something seriously wrong with the way we are utilizing our resources.

What are the most important threats on the horizon? Any list must include cyber-attacks; home-grown or “copy cat” terrorism carried out without significant logistical or financial support from any organization or network; “loose” nuclear weapons or bomb-making material in Russia, Pakistan, or heaven forbid, Saudi Arabia (reportedly eager to lay claim to weapons now in Pakistan); and a miscalculation in the tussle between China and the U.S. and its allies in Asia over borders and the resources contained within them. None of the aforementioned challenges will be solved via traditional instruments of military power. The lack of a military solution is even more evident in the case of more generalized threats to human life and livelihood like climate change and epidemics of disease.

President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are not unmindful of these shifts, but they have yet to fully act on their implications. One set of proposals that seeks to bridge the gap between preparing for current versus future threats is a report on “strategic agility” put forward by a task force of defense analysts, retired military officers and former defense industry executives organized by the Stimson Center. In its own words, the task force’s approach would “seek to avoid involvement in protracted ground conflicts, reform the way the DoD compensates and utilizes personnel, and reduce expenditure on weapons that provide only marginal improvements in capability.” It highlights diplomacy as the preferred means of settling conflicts, but notes that the current State Department operating budget is just 3 percent of the Pentagon’s.

Specific actions recommended in the Stimson report include cutting the headquarters of the Pentagon and the military services by 20 per cent, reducing the Army to 450,000 active duty troops, slowing down purchases of the F-35 combat aircraft, and downsizing the ballistic missile submarine force from 12 to 10 boats. These four steps alone would save $25 billion annually, more than the Ryan/Murray plan proposes to add to the Pentagon budget for 2014.

The Stimson approach offers just one illustration of how Pentagon spending can be reduced while creating a military more appropriate to near- and medium-term threats.. Douglas Macgregor has proposed restructuring the Army and Marines so that they are constituted of autonomous “plug and play” modules that can provide more combat capability at lower overall troop levels. And long-time defense journalist and analyst Tom Ricks of the New America Foundation has called for shrinking the military in order to make it easier for it to “adapt to the events of tomorrow.”

Throwing an extra $20 billion at the Pentagon now may just postpone a necessary rethinking of how we structure our armed forces and what we expect of them in a world where traditional approaches no longer work. Congress should reconsider this part of the Ryan/Murray deal and keep the Pentagon under the caps set out in current law.

William D. Hartung is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and a senior adviser to the Security Assistance Monitor and a columnist for the Americas Program.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 06, 2016
Anthony DiMaggio
Post-Fact Politics: Reviewing the History of Fake News and Propaganda
Richard Moser
Standing Rock: Challenge to the Establishment, School for the Social Movements
Norman Solomon
Media Complicity is Key to Blacklisting Websites
Michael J. Sainato
Elizabeth Warren’s Shameful Exploitation of Standing Rock Victory
David Rosen
State Power and Terror: From Wounded Knee to Standing Rock
Kim Ives
Deconstructing Another Right-Wing Victory in Haiti
Nile Bowie
South Korea’s Presidency On A Knife-Edge
Mateo Pimentel
Some Notes and a Song for Standing Rock
Bill Fletcher Jr – Bob Wing
Fighting Back Against the White Revolt of 2016
Peter Lee
Is America Ready for a War on White Privilege?
Pepe Escobar
The Rules of the (Trump) Game
W. T. Whitney
No Peace Yet in Colombia Despite War’s End
Mark Weisbrot
Castro Was Right About US Policy in Latin America
David Swanson
New Rogue Anti-Russia Committee Created in “Intelligence” Act
George Ochenski
Forests of the Future: Local or National Control?
December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail