A Reasonable Alternative to Sequester of DoD Funding
PDA Briefing Memo #56, 14 August 2012
How should the U.S. defense posture and budget change as the war in Afghanistan winds down? This is a critical question for the nation, especially considering the growing fiscal pressures on the Federal government.
Unfortunately, the current panic about the pending "sequester" prevents clear thinking about the options before us. The January 2013 sequester of $55 billion in security spending will result in a precipitous reduction for the Pentagon. The Budget Control Act will trim the Pentagon in one stroke to a level close to its budget of 2007. This cut has been called "draconian" and "devastating" for the armed forces. A consensus has been growing in Washington that the Budget Control Act (BCA) must be amended or suspended in order to prevent sequestration.
This is not a choice between sequestration and no further cuts for DoD, however. There are ways to apply additional cuts to the Pentagon base budget that avoid both institutional disruption and most of the economic pain associated with deep cuts to government spending – a matter of some concern while the economy remains weak and struggling to recover. An illustrative option is the “Reasonable Defense” plan formulated by the Project on Defense Alternatives. It would ratchet back the base budget to the level of 2006 (corrected for inflation), but do so gradually in stages that the Pentagon and armed services could readily accommodate.
The table and chart that follow illustrate the first five years of the Reasonable Defense plan, comparing it with the Budget Control Act "sequester" budget, Administration's 2013 plan, and the actual 2012 spending level carried forward with increases for inflation. The figures show that the first three years of Reasonable Defense cuts would be considerably smaller than what the BCA sequester entails. Then in 2017, when the post-recession economic recovery should be complete, the cuts would exceed those dictated by the BCA, eventually plateauing at a level about equal to the 2006 budget, which is somewhat lower than the sequestration level.
proposed reduction from today’s level
would be quite modest by historical
standards – about 14% in real terms
compared to the 35% reduction that
followed the end of the Cold War. And,
because the reduction would occur
gradually over four years, the annual
steps down would be comparable to those
successfully absorbed by the Defense
Department during previous periods of
What does this proposed level of funding mean? In inflation-adjusted terms, the 2012 Pentagon base budget is 38% higher than the 2001 budget, which was enacted before today’s wars had begun. While the Reasonable Defense plan would roll the base budget back to its 2006 level (adjusted for inflation), a fair portion of the spending increase would remain. The 2006 budget was 20% above the level of 2001, in real terms.
The Ten Year Perspective
The full details of the Reasonable Defense national security posture are forthcoming from the Project on Defense Alternatives in September of 2012. The addendum that follows gives some details of the plan.
Addendum: Prospectus for a Reasonable Defense
The PDA “Reasonable Defense” plan would reset America’s defense posture in light of new strategic challenges and circumstances. Based on a more realistic and cost-effective defense strategy, the new posture would enable a sustainable balance between military power and other elements of national strength. The new strategy would:
Following from these strategic precepts, the Reasonable Defense plan would reduce the size of the active-component military from more than 1.4 million troops today to 1.15 million by the end of 2016 – 19% reduction in military personnel over four years. Combat troops and units would be reduced by only 17%, however – more for the ground forces, less for the air forces. The reduction in National Guard and Reserve personnel would also be less: only 11%.
Once the drawdown to a Reasonable Defense level is complete, the annual Defense Department base budget would stabilize at approximately $455 billion (2012 dollars), which is 14% below the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.
Charles Knight, 617-547-4474, email@example.com
Carl Conetta, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ethan Rosenkranz, 202-316-7018, email@example.com
With offices in Washington DC and Cambridge MA, the Project on Defense Alternatives develops and promotes defense policy innovation that reconciles the goals of effective defense against aggression, improved international cooperation and stability, and lower levels of military spending and armed force worldwide. Subscribe to the monthly PDA Updates Bulletin.