Archive for the ‘Editor’s’ Category

US and Allies Dominate Group of Top Military Spenders

Project on Defense Alternatives, 29 June 2012.

How much is enough spending for the Pentagon? By various measures, the United States has outspent the next nine, 14, or 21 countries combined. What is perhaps more telling is that most of those other countries are staunch US allies.

* International Institute for Strategic Studies
** Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
*** PPP = Purchasing Power Parity, a measure that facilitates international budget comparisons by adjusting exchange rates to reflect the relative domestic buying power of national currencies.

Notes: The IISS column presents officially reported spending in USD at 2010 exchange rates, with two exceptions: China and Russia. For these, the number is an estimate of actual spending. The second column is SIPRI’s estimate of actual expenditures, also shown in USD at 2010 exchange rates. The PPP column converts estimates of actual expenditures into approximate purchasing power, mostly drawn from SIPRI data. For China and Russia, it also shows an IISS estimate of purchasing power, thus producing a range. Purchasing power calculations improve on estimates that use exchange rates alone. However, PPP ratios are based on comparisons between national economies as a whole, not the defense sectors specifically. This can overstate military purchasing power when a nation’s military sector is much more advanced than its economy overall or when a nation depends heavily on international arms purchases.

Comments: The biggest spenders of concern to the United States are Russia and China, although neither are considered US adversaries today.
• America and its top spending allies outpace these two countries taken together by margins exceeding three-to-one.
• America alone spent more than twice as much as these two countries in 2010, by some measures. By other measures, it outspent them combined by nearly four-to-one.
The review draws on data compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), both regarded as world leaders in the field of defense assessment.

Neither IISS nor SIPRI accept Chinese or Russian official defense budget numbers at face value. Their estimates seek to capture unreported military expenditure from other parts of the Chinese and Russian economy. Both also offer alternative estimates that aim to correct for exchange rate distortions when comparing nations at very different levels of economic development – although these corrections may somewhat over state the “purchasing power” of military budgets.

Differences in the IISS and SIPRI methods, and the difference between corrected and uncorrected exchange rate estimates, account for the range given in number of countries whose combined budgets equal that of the United States. The answer ranges from nine to 21 countries — and all but a few of these are US allies.

Sources: International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2012 (London, 2012); Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI Yearbook 2011 (Oxford, 2011).

HTML version of this table

The Pentagon Jobs Machine Is A Bust

A Project on Defense Alternatives Commentary, 26 June 2012.

After years of touting the necessity of guns over butter, the defense establishment has changed its tune. With the official US unemployment rate stuck at over 8 percent, Pentagon flaks are now boldly declaring that “guns are butter.” The Department of Defense as a social program? It’s a cynical ploy as William Hartung and Stephen Miles point out in this article.

Here are the Pros and Cons on the story:
• A National Association of Manufacturers study released last week says Pentagon cuts will mean substantial jobs loss in the defense sector.
• At the same time, cutting defense spending may be among the least painful ways to trim the Federal deficit. This two minute video by Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project explains why. His data is from a study by the Political Economy Research Institute at UMass.
• A $1 billion cut from the education sector will result in more than twice as many jobs lost as a $1 billion cut from the defense sector.
• We could cut $50 billion from the defense budget next year, put $25 billion to deficit reduction and put $25 billion into education and have a net increase of more than 20,000 jobs. That’s a win-win fiscal deal.

For more on Pentagon spending and jobs see this background compilation: The Pentagon Budget and Jobs.

Time to get U.S. nukes out of Europe

Stephen M. Walt. Foreign Policy, 18 April 2012.


There’s an overwhelming case for removing these archaic and unnecessary weapons from the European continent. Ideally, we would do this as part of a bilateral deal with Russia, but we ought to do it even if Russia isn’t interested.

Editor’s Comment:

Couldn’t agree more!

Pentagon Base Budget to Get Bigger Share in 2013

Carl Conetta. Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #54, 23 March 2012. A comparison of discretionary spending in 2008 and 2013 shows an increased tilt toward the “Security Basket” and National Defense.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan: the plan for 2012, 2013, and 2014

C.J. Radin. The Long War Journal, 18 March 2012.


In June 2011, President Obama announced that the US would begin withdrawing military forces from Afghanistan and transferring responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The US goal is to be substantially out of Afghanistan by 2014, with ANSF responsible for the entire country.

The plan for 2013 is currently being developed. The final version will be presented for approval at the NATO summit in Chicago in May. While still incomplete, portions of the plan have been disclosed or can be deduced. According to The Guardian, Obama described the next phase of the transition as follows: “This includes shifting to a support role next year, in 2013, in advance of Afghans taking full responsibility for security in 2014. We’re going to complete this mission, and we’re going to do it responsibly.”

The most significant element of the plan is that US and ISAF forces will stop conducting combat operations in late 2013. The ANSF will then be responsible for executing all combat operations in Afghanistan.

Despite War Drums, Experts Insist Iran Nuclear Deal Possible

Jim Lobe., 25 February 2012.


Despite the IAEA’s apparent lack of progress, Iran’s acceptance last week of a long-standing request from EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of the P5+1 to resume negotiations, stalled for over a year, makes it likely that a new round of talks will take place in late March or April, probably in Istanbul…Anticipation of those talks, as well as the rapid escalation of tensions over the last two months, particularly between Israel and Iran, has provoked a flurry of proposals to revive the dormant diplomatic track, if only to calm a situation threatening to spin out of control.

No Matter Republican or Democrat in the White House, More Military Budget Cuts are Coming

Charles Knight, commentary, 24 February 2012.

The Pentagon, the Obama administration, and many members of Congress hope that cuts to the defense budget stop with those mandated in the first stage caps of the 2011 Budget Control Act and made more specific in the President’s recently announced FY13 budget plan. As Reuters has reported the Obama FY13 budget shifts away from an austerity frame, partially adopted in 2012, to instead emphasize a program of higher taxes on the rich, a continuing tax cut for wage earners, and public investments in infrastructure, education and police services.

It is safe to predict that most all Republicans and some Democrats in Congress will join to block the President’s tax/revenue enhancement programs and domestic economic investments. The political stalemate on further deficit/debt reduction that followed passage of the BCA last year will remain in place through the remainder of 2012.

Even if we assume that after this year’s election Congress will find a way to avoid the particulars in the so-called “sequester” (second-stage) provision of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the pressure for deeper cuts will remain.

To see why the pressure for more defense cuts will continue into next year we need look no further than a new report from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget called Primary Numbers: The GOP Candidates and the National Debt. Their analysis shows that in 2021 the fiscal plans the GOP candidates will yield the following national debt levels as percentages of GDP:

    Gingrich – 114%
    Santorum – 104%
    Romney – 86%
    Paul – 76%

By odd coincidence Ron Paul’s plan and President Obama’s plan both end up at a debt level of 76% of GDP in 2021. Of course, the two plans get there by very different mechanisms. Obama’s plan relies substantially on increased revenue (including tax increases) and Paul’s mostly on spending cuts, including deeper cuts in the defense budget.

What makes the Pentagon budget vulnerable after the election is that the centrist Democratic president and the libertarian Republican candidate have positioned themselves as the most fiscally conservative, while the leading Republican contenders are looking like spend and don’t tax radicals.

Gingrich grabs for the mantel of Reagonomic fiscal policy by favoring an increase of national debt to 114% of GDP. Santorum is a close second at 104% of GDP. By comparison, Romney appears moderate at 86% of GDP, 13% higher than Obama or Paul. Romney is in favor of increasing military spending.

The problem for the Pentagon is that both Obama’s and Romney’s plans are politically unrealistic and very unlikely to be implemented. Obama keeps the debt low largely through tax increases — which will not happen if Congress remains controlled by Republicans. A failure to raise new revenues will be critical. If the Administration were able to get higher taxes on the rich it would facilitate holding DoD cuts to the level of the FY13 plan. Failure to achieve these tax increases will mean two things: 1) it will be much harder to get a domestic investment program (even if the Democrats do better than expected in November) and 2) the attractiveness to a significant portion of liberals and conservatives of additional DoD cuts will continue.

Romney, on the other hand, plans to keep taxes low and increases defense spending — therefore his fiscal plan depends on deeper cuts in domestic spending and substantial cuts to entitlements. Given that domestic spending has been cut to the bone in most accounts and entitlement programs have survived all conservative assaults to date, Romney’s plan seems equally unlikely. For more on the limits of the Romney plan see Ezra Klein here.

So there is every reason to believe that after this year’s election powerful fiscal conservatives who can see beyond the partisan nonsense will look hard again at the Pentagon’s budget to find things to cut. This condition means that the nation will remain open to strategic adjustment for some years to come.

Debt and GOP Candidates' Fiscal Plans

Projected National Debt from GOP Candidates' Fiscal Plans

A First Strike Against Iran? It’s Time to Recall the Case of Iraq

Now that speculation and discussion of a possible attack from Israel on Iranian nuclear development facilities is rampant, it is time to bring back a review I did on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

First Strike Guidelines: The Case of Iraq
Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Memo #25
by Charles Knight, 16 September 2002 (revised and updated 10 March 2003)


…despite the repeated use of the term “preemption” to describe their counterproliferation strategy (see the 2002 National Security Strategy), the Bush administration’s strategic approach to Iraq is one of preventive war. The U.S. Department of Defense defines preventive war as “war initiated in the belief that military conflict, while not imminent, is inevitable, and that to delay would involve greater risk” while it defines preemptive attack as “an attack initiated on the basis of incontrovertible evidence that an enemy attack is imminent.” Preventive war has long been understood to be highly destabilizing and it is nearly impossible to reconcile it with the notions of non-aggression imbedded in the United Nations Charter.