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Cut Defense Spending NOW?

The attack on North Korea — an act of war by any definition, even if not acknowledged as such — is a timely reminder that the suggestions floating around to cut defense spending are misguided. The Foreign Policy Initiative explains:

America’s military has come under severe strain in the last decade, fighting two wars, preparing for the many potential challenges of the future, and contending with a growing number of aging, worn-out weapons systems. Yet as the debate in Washington about reducing America’s deficit gathers steam, there are increasing calls to make deep cuts in the defense budget. The fiscal effects of such reductions are miniscule—saving perhaps $100 billion over many years against projected annual deficits of more than $1.4 trillion—but the impact on the U.S. military is major. Greater still would be the effects of diminished American power in an increasingly “multipolar” world. …

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the-wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services. “Going to war with the army you have,” to paraphrase former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has exacerbated this problem, gobbling up the remaining service life of older systems; nine-plus years of war have only increased this “modernization deficit.” Further reductions, on top of the more than $300 billion Secretary Gates has already cut in proposed procurement of new weapon systems, will dangerously erode the technological edge that America’s armed forces depend upon, and deserve.

The frenzy to cut defense spending is in reality an entirely political ploy: to get liberals on board with cuts in massive entitlement and discretionary spending, fiscal hawks are willing to throw defense spending into the mix. But this ignores the real and multiplying threats we face, especially under a president whose reticence seems only to have whetted the appetites of aggressive regimes.

The result of the lower-defense-spending fetish is that the way we have traditionally looked at defense spending and national security has been reversed. Presidents of both parties have attempted to assess the threats we face and from that determine what expenditures we need. It is imperfect at best, since congressmen and senators are not shy about asking for goodies for their districts and states. But at least the effort is made to gear spending to national security needs. But in the rush to cut defense spending, this process is reversed: we are told by liberal Democrats, conservative neo-isolationists, and budget hawks that because of the need to cut spending, we need to reassess our national security commitments. It is quite frankly a non sequitur. Al-Qaeda, North Korea, Iran, and the rest are only growing bolder. If the defense cutters were honest, they’d say they are willing to make us less safe to get liberals to accept domestic spending cuts. But that sounds daft. And it is.

As the 2012 GOP presidential contenders scramble for visibility, they would do well to take on this issue — and those who think that in an increasingly dangerous world we should be spending less to defend ourselves.


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