Archive for the ‘Editor’s’ Category

Does Obama Run Hot or Cold on Defense?

Project on Defense Alternatives, 13 February 2012.

Comparing the President’s requested budget authority for the Pentagon “base budget” in two successive budgets (FY-2012 and FY-2013) shows a reduction of nearly $490 billion in the years of comparison 2012-2021. This is a subtraction from last year’s plan and not from the CBO baseline, however.

• 2012-2021 cumulative spending in FY-2012 plan = $6.14 trillion
• 2012-2021 cumulative spending in FY-2013 plan = $5.65 trillion

There are other ways to measure progress in bringing fiscal responsibility to defense budgeting:

— Taking the 2012 spending level and holding it steady over the period 2012-2021 with increases for inflation only would produce a cumulative total of $5.82 trillion.

— Taking the 2011 spending level and holding it steady with increases for inflation would produce for 2012-2021 a cumulative spending total of $5.9 trillion.

Either of these might be used as alternative yardsticks for measuring the administration’s austerity efforts in the defense field — and both suggest a more modest rollback: $170 billion over ten years and $250 billion, respectively.

Does Obama Run Hot or Cold on Defense?

How Much Austerity in New Pentagon Budget?

Project on Defense Alternatives, 13 February 2012. Measured against recent spending levels, the new ten-year plan for Defense base budget spending shows only modest savings. One table.

Panetta Releases DoD “Austerity” Budget: Pentagon Retains Most of post-1998 Increase

from the Project on Defense Alternatives, 26 January 2012

The future-years Pentagon base budget plan released by Secretary Panetta on 26 January 2012 foresees rolling spending back to the level of 2008, corrected for inflation.  Spending on the non-war part of the budget during the next five years (2013-2017) will be about 4% lower than during the past five (2008-2012) in real terms.  The real (that is, “inflation corrected”) change from 2012 will be a reduction of 3.2%

The chart below corrects for inflation by rendering all sums in 2012 dollars.  It shows that base-budget spending had jumped 55% after inflation between 1998 and 2010.  The new budget plan sets 2013 spending at $525 billion, which is 46% above the 1998 level.

The new budget plan – represented by the green trend line — stands in stark contrast to the reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act under the provisions for sequestration (represented by the red trend line).  Sequestration would roll Pentagon base-budget spending back to the level of 2004, which would still be 31% above the 1998 level (corrected for inflation).  The new budget plan and sequestration do have one thing in common: both would keep Pentagon spending above the inflation-adjusted average for the Cold War years (represented by the horizontal dash line).


Regaining Our Balance: the Pentagon’s New Military Strategy Takes a Small Step

Christopher Preble and Charles Knight. Huffington Post, 20 January 2012.


Balance depends on what you are standing on. With respect to our physical security, the United States is blessed with continental peace and a dearth of powerful enemies. Our military is the best-trained, best-led, and best-equipped in the world. It is our unstable finances and our sluggish economy that make us vulnerable to stumbling.

Unfortunately, the new strategy does not fully appreciate our strengths, nor does it fully address our weaknesses. In the end, it does not achieve Eisenhower’s vaunted balance.


Keep Pentagon Cuts in Perspective: What the administration proposes is hardly dramatic

Carl Conetta. Project on Defense Briefing Memo #53, 05 January 2012.


The roll back in spending plans and the actual cuts to the budget are sufficient to engage every office and program in the Pentagon. That makes for a contentious debate as well as a load of fodder for partisan politics. It will help if we can keep things in perspective. The cuts we face today are far less dramatic than those following the Cold War. Aggregate budget authority during 1991-1996 was nearly 20% lower in real terms than during 1987-1990 – a decline five times greater than what the administration today proposes. Given our nation’s current economic straights, Pentagon advocates should actually breathe a sigh of relief.

History shows danger of arbitrary defense cuts

Paula G. Thornhill. CNN, 23 November 2011.


The nation’s leadership needs a Plan B so that a heroic assumption — or hope — about the unlikelihood of future wars does not inadvertently lead to strategic disaster. This is harder than it seems. Plan B would allow more flexibility to meet what could go wrong in the strategic environment rather than just making budget cuts.

Editor’s Comment:

Plan B is to maintain a good ‘strategic reserve.’ As neo-conservatives like to point out the United States spends only 4.5% of its GDP on its military. If new threats pinch, the U.S. can easily ramp up spending and engage its still considerable industrial and knowledge base. The problem this country faces with a reconstitution strategy is lack of political will. Civilian leaders are loathe to ask the American people to sacrifice. A robust National Guard and Reserve force that is not abused by frequent deployments to unnecessary wars and a societal expectation to pay a tax surcharge in times of national emergency are the fundamentals of what this country needs to be strategically prepared while maintaining a small standing peacetime force. With such a strategic plan the U.S. can be well provisioned for any threat.

A 1% Solution Gives Pentagon Strategic Choices

Matthew Leatherman. Bloomberg Government, 21 November 2011.

Going for Broke: The Budgetary Consequences of Current US Defense Strategy

Carl Conetta. PDA Briefing Memo #52, 25 October 2011.


The sharp rise in the Pentagon’s base budget since 1998 (46% in real terms) is substantially due to strategic choice, not security requirements, per se. It reflects a refusal to set priorities as well as a move away from the traditional goals of military deterrence, containment, and defense to more ambitious ends: threat prevention, command of the commons, and the transformation of the global security environment. The geographic scope of routine US military activity also has expanded.

companion piece: The Pentagon’s New Mission Set: A Sustainable Choice?, by Carl Conetta. An updated and expanded excerpt from the Report of the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget (USB) for the United States, August 2011.