Archive for the ‘Debates’ Category

Deficit-Buster Proposals Won’t Work Without Changes in U.S. Defense Strategy

Sandra Erwin. National Defense Magazine, 22 November 2010.


“The Defense Department’s biggest weakness is its budget strategy: the absence of strategic choice,” says Gordon Adams, American University professor who authored the defense recommendations in the Domenici-Rivlin proposal that was presented by former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and White House Budget Director under Clinton, Alice Rivlin.

Cutting the defense budget should not be about doing the same with less, Adams says. The reaction to the Simpson-Bowles report, which takes aim at many big-ticket weapon programs and calls for work force reductions, was predictable. Every targeted program or agency, as was seen recently with U.S. Joint Forces Command, is making a case that it is essential to national security, and its supporters already are mobilizing lobbyists and advocacy groups.

The smarter approach would be for the Obama administration and Congress to agree to a scaled-back military strategy, says Adams. “At the end of the day, it’s about policy makers restraining their impulse to use the military in the reckless way it’s been used in the past 20 years,” he says.

Experts Letter on Defense Spending to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform

American Flag header

18 November 2010

Dear Co-chairman Bowles and Co-chairman Simpson:

We are writing to you as experts in national security and defense economics to convey our views on the national security implications of the Commission’s work and especially the need for achieving responsible reductions in military spending. In this regard, we appreciate the initiative you have taken in your 10 November 2010 draft proposal to the Commission. It begins a necessary process of serious reflection, debate, and action.

The vitality of our economy is the cornerstone of our nation’s strength. We share the Commission’s desire to bring our financial house into order. Doing so is not merely a question of economics. Reducing the national debt is also a national security imperative.

To date, the Obama administration has exempted the Defense Department from any budget reductions. This is short-sighted: It makes it more difficult to accomplish the task of restoring our economic strength, which is the underpinning of our military power.

As the rest of the nation labors to reduce its debt burden, the current plan is to boost the base DOD budget by 10 percent in real terms over the next decade. This would come on top of the nearly 52 percent real increase in base military spending since 1998. (When war costs are included the increase has been much greater: 95 percent.)

We appreciate Secretary Gates’ efforts to reform the Pentagon’s business and acquisition practices. However, even if his reforms fulfill their promise, the current plan does not translate them into budgetary savings that contribute to solving our deficit problem. Their explicit aim is to free funds for other uses inside the Pentagon. This is not good enough.

Granting defense a special dispensation puts at risk the entire deficit reduction effort. Defense spending today constitutes over 55 percent of discretionary spending and 23 percent of the federal budget. An exemption for defense not only undermines the broader call for fiscal responsibility, but also makes overall budget restraint much harder as a practical economic and political matter.

We need not put our economic power at risk in this way. Today the United States possesses a wide margin of global military superiority. The defense budget can bear significant reduction without compromising our essential security.

We recognize that larger military adversaries may rise to face us in the future. But the best hedge against this possibility is vigilance and a vibrant economy supporting a military able to adapt to new challenges as they emerge.

We can achieve greater defense economy today in several ways, all of which we urge you to consider seriously. We need to be more realistic in the goals we set for our armed forces and more selective in our choices regarding their use abroad. We should focus our military on core security goals and on those current and emerging threats that most directly affect us.

We also need to be more judicious in our choice of security instruments when dealing with international challenges. Our armed forces are a uniquely expensive asset and for some tasks no other instrument will do. For many challenges, however, the military is not the most cost-effective choice. We can achieve greater efficiency today without diminishing our security by better discriminating between vital, desirable, and unnecessary military missions and capabilities.

There is a variety of specific options that would produce savings, some of which we describe below. The important point, however, is a firm commitment to seek savings through a reassessment of our defense strategy, our global posture, and our means of producing and managing military power.

■ Since the end of the Cold War, we have required our military to prepare for and conduct more types of missions in more places around the world. The Pentagon’s task list now includes not only preventive war, regime change, and nation building, but also vague efforts to “shape the strategic environment” and stem the emergence of threats. It is time to prune some of these missions and restore an emphasis on defense and deterrence.

■ U.S. combat power dramatically exceeds that of any plausible combination of conventional adversaries. To cite just one example, Secretary Gates has observed that the U.S. Navy is today as capable as the next 13 navies combined, most of which are operated by our allies. We can safely save by trimming our current margin of superiority.

■ America’s permanent peacetime military presence abroad is largely a legacy of the Cold War. It can be reduced without undermining the essential security of the United States or its allies.

■ The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have revealed the limits of military power. Avoiding these types of operation globally would allow us to roll back the recent increase in the size of our Army and Marine Corps.

■ The Pentagon’s acquisition process has repeatedly failed, routinely delivering weapons and equipment late, over cost, and less capable than promised. Some of the most expensive systems correspond to threats that are least prominent today and unlikely to regain prominence soon. In these cases, savings can be safely realized by cancelling, delaying, or reducing procurement or by seeking less costly alternatives.

■ Recent efforts to reform Defense Department financial management and acquisition practices must be strengthened. And we must impose budget discipline to trim service redundancies and streamline command, support systems, and infrastructure.

Change along these lines is bound to be controversial. Budget reductions are never easy – no less for defense than in any area of government. However, fiscal realities call on us to strike a new balance between investing in military power and attending to the fundamentals of national strength on which our true power rests. We can achieve safe savings in defense if we are willing to rethink how we produce military power and how, why, and where we put it to use.


  • Gordon Adams, American University and Stimson Center
  • Robert Art, Brandeis University
  • Deborah Avant, UC Irvine
  • Andrew Bacevich, Boston University
  • Richard Betts, Columbia University
  • Linda Bilmes, Kennedy School, Harvard University
  • Steven Clemons, New America Foundation
  • Joshua Cohen, Stanford University and co-editor, Boston Review
  • Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives
  • Owen R. Cote Jr., Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michael Desch, University of Notre Dame
  • Matthew Evangelista, Cornell University
  • Benjamin H. Friedman, Cato Institute
  • Lt. Gen. (USA, Ret.) Robert G. Gard, Jr., Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
  • David Gold, Graduate Program in International Affairs, The New School
  • William Hartung, Arms and Security Initiative, New America Foundation
  • David Hendrickson, Colorado College
  • Michael Intriligator, UCLA and Milken Institute
  • Robert Jervis, Columbia University
  • Sean Kay, Ohio Wesleyan University
  • Elizabeth Kier, University of Washington
  • Charles Knight, Project on Defense Alternatives
  • Lawrence Korb, Center for American Progress
  • Peter Krogh, Georgetown University
  • Richard Ned Lebow, Dartmouth College
  • Walter LaFeber, Cornell University
  • Col. (USA, Ret.) Douglas Macgregor
  • Scott McConnell, editor-at-large, The American Conservative
  • John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago
  • Steven E. Miller, Harvard University and editor-in-chief, International Security
  • Steven Metz, national security analyst and writer
  • Janne Nolan, American Security Project
  • Robert Paarlberg, Wellesley College and Harvard University
  • Paul Pillar, Georgetown University
  • Barry Posen, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Christopher Preble, Cato Institute
  • Daryl Press, Dartmouth College
  • Jeffrey Record, defense policy analyst and author
  • David Rieff, author
  • Thomas Schelling, University of Maryland
  • Jack Snyder, Columbia University
  • J. Ann Tickner, University of Southern California
  • Robert Tucker, Johns Hopkins University
  • Stephen Van Evera, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Stephen Walt, Harvard University
  • Kenneth Waltz, Columbia University
  • Cindy Williams, Security Studies Program, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Daniel Wirls, UC Santa Cruz
    • This letter reflects the opinions of the individual signatories. Institutions are listed for identification purposes only. The letter is the result of a joint effort by The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and the Project on Defense Alternatives.

      Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era: The Rise of the AirSea Battle Concept

      Thomas P.M Barnett. China Security, October 2010.


      In sum, ending China’s free-riding is arguably more important for long-term system-wide stability than continuing to deter China’s military invasion of Taiwan. As globalization’s networks continue to expand at a rapid pace, America’s ability to play sole Leviathan to the system naturally degrades dramatically. That means, while the likelihood of China’s military invasion of Taiwan dissipates with each passing year, the likelihood of America’s “imperial exhaustion” most certainly surpasses it in strategic importance in the near term.

      History will judge US strategists most severely if our choice to maintain “access” to East Asia by triggering a regional arms race precludes our ability to draw China into strategic co-management of this era of pervasively extending globalization—without a doubt America’s greatest strategic achievement. I cannot fault the AirSea Battle Concept as an operational capability designed to keep us in the East Asian balancing “game.” But my fear is that it will—primarily by default and somewhat by “blue” ambition—serve America badly in a strategic sense, absent a proactive political and military engagement effort to balance its negative impact on the most important bilateral relationship of the modern globalization era.

      Editor’s Comment:

      Barnett alerts us to a prospective instance when leading with military capability is likely to be a disservice to strategic interests.

      Independent QDR Panel Calls For Increasing Size Of Navy, Bolstering Procurement

      Jason Sherman, Inside Defense, 26 July 2010.

      A bipartisan independent review of the Obama administration’s 20-year blueprint for the Defense Department calls for increasing the size of the Navy to a 346-ship fleet and increasing the U.S. military’s posture in the Western Pacific to counter China’s growing influence in the region, according to a draft report of the Independent Quadrennial Defense Review Panel. obtained a draft copy of the report titled “The QDR in Perspective: Meeting America’s National Security Needs in the 21st Century.”

      The 20-member blue-ribbon panel — co-chaired by former Defense Secretary William Perry and Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser to President George W. Bush — also finds a significant increase in funding is needed to bolster capabilities necessary to counter anti-access challenges, strengthen homeland defense; and to deal with cyber threats.

      The panel’s report argues that a centerpiece of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review — a force-planning construct that downplayed the significance of preparing to fight and win two, nearly simultaneous major wars, a bedrock of defense planning since 1993, in order to prepare U.S. forces to deal with a wider set of possible contingencies — is unreliable. Instead, the independent panel recommends the Pentagon adopt force levels required by analysis conducted 17 years ago.

      The “panel recommends the force structure be sized, at a minimum, at the end strength outlined in the 1993 Bottom-Up Review,” an assessment prepared by then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin, which Perry then worked to implement during his 1994 to 1997 term as secretary. “We further recommend the department’s [weapon system] inventory be thoroughly recapitalized and modernized,” states the draft report.

      Funding to pay for these capabilities, as well as to recapitalize equipment consumed in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, will require resources beyond the $100 billion efficiency savings recently directed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, according to the report.

      The “panel believes that substantial additional resources will be required to modernize the force. Although there is a cost to recapitalizing the military, there is also a price to be paid for not recapitalizing, one that in the long run would be much greater.”

      Tasked by Congress — and composed of members appointed by lawmakers and Gates — the panel’s report delves into nearly every dimension of the U.S. military enterprise — from personnel policy to weapons acquisition to defense policy formulation — and offers an “explicit warning” about the shape of U.S. weaponry after a nearly a decade of persistent conflict.

      “The aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure,” states the draft report.

      The draft document argues that the Pentagon’s force-structure plans “will not provide sufficient capacity” to deal with a major domestic catastrophe while also conducting contingency operations abroad. The panel also asserts that the recently established U.S. Cyber Command should be prepared to assist civilian authorities in defending this domain “beyond” the Defense Department’s current role, to support civilian agencies.

      The Pentagon’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review did not include a force-planning construct that explicitly quantifies the number and type of contingencies for which the U.S. military must prepare, removing a formula the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have relied on since the end of the Cold War to justify their force structures and their investment plans, an omission the independent panel laments.

      The Pentagon’s 1993 Bottom-Up Review, the first major assessment of the the U.S. military’s needs after the fall of the Berlin Wall, advanced a requirement to fight and win two major-theater wars nearly simultaneously, a construct that was incorporated in the 1997, 2001 and 2006 QDRs.

      “The 2010 QDR, however, did not endorse any metric for determining the size and shape of U.S. forces,” states the independent panel’s draft report. Rather, it put diverse, overlapping scenarios, including long-duration stability operations and the defense of the homeland, on par with major regional conflicts when assessing the adequacy of U.S. forces.”

      The current size of U.S. ground forces “is close enough to being correct,” according to the draft report.

      In addition, the panel argues that the Army is “living off the capital accumulated” during the Reagan administration. “The useful life of that equipment is running out; and, as a result, the inventory is old and in need of recapitalization,” states the draft report, which calls for inventory replacement on a one-for-one basis “with an upward adjustment in the number of naval vessels and certain air and space assets.”

      A larger Navy and Air Force, according to the panel, is needed to protect U.S. interests in the Pacific region.

      “The force structure in the Asia-Pacific needs to be increased,” states the draft report. “The United States must be fully present in the Asia-Pacific region, to protect American lives and territory, ensure the free flow of commerce, maintain stability, and defend our allies in the region. A robust U.S. force structure, one that is largely rooted in maritime strategy and includes other necessary capabilities, will be essential.”

      The panel advances recommendations to reform the structure and organization of both Congress and the executive branch in order to improve oversight of national security matters. The panel also advances suggestions for the Defense and State departments to shore up “institutional weaknesses of the existing security assistance programs and framework.”

      Carl Conetta speaks on strategic value of getting the nation’s financial house in order

      Capitol Visitors Center, 11 June 2010.

      Debt, Deficits, and Defense: A Way Forward

      Report of the Sustainable Defense Task Force. 11 June 2010.
      full report:
      executive summary:


      Putting America’s defense establishment on a more sustainable path may require curbing some of our commitments abroad, adopting more realistic military goals, or putting greater emphasis on more cost-effective instruments of power.

      C-SPAN video of the report release briefing hosted by Rep. Barney Frank, U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, 11 June 2010.

      Photos of the report release briefing, U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, 11 June 2010.

      A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan

      Report of the Afghanistan Study Group, June 2010.


      The bottom line is clear: Our vital interests in Afghanistan are limited and military victory is not the key to achieving them.

      On the contrary, waging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarreling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems.

      Obama’s National Security Strategy: How Will It Be Managed?

      Laura A. Hall. Budget Insight, 27 May 2010.


      On the military side, no clear prioritization of missions. As in the QDR, the NSS provides no priorities among military missions, but repeats a long shopping list that could drive force structure and budget expectations even higher than they are now.