News Analysis: Obama’s Proposed $400 billion Security Spending Cut

On Wednesday April 13th 2001, President Obama announced an initiative to roll back planned security spending by $400 billion over the next 12 years. The nature of these “savings” is not yet clear. Nor is it clear how much will be subtracted from the Pentagon’s spending plans.

Nonetheless, Secretary Gates and the Chiefs are not pleased and have begun to make noise about risks to security. Apparently, they were not briefed on the proposal until Tuesday.

Part of the initiative is to begin a “fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world.” What and how much is subtracted from the Pentagon will depend on this review. Notably, the United States just completed a Quadrennial Defense Review last year. What the President proposes is some sort of “second look.” The President, Secretary Gates, and the service chiefs will be the prime movers of this process. How deep their “second look” will go is unclear. And it seems battle lines are already being drawn.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell said the review would likely affect the 2013 budget. It will not be ready by June, when congressional debate of the 2012 budget commences.

How open will the review process be? We don’t yet know. But the experience of recent defense reviews is not encouraging. Still we should welcome this first step and strive to open up the process. The need for a rethinking our defense strategy and posture was emphasized in the 2010 report of the Sustainable Defense Task Force:

[I]n order to ensure significant savings, we must change how we produce military power and the ways in which we put it to use. Significant savings may depend on our willingness to:

    Rethink our national security commitments and goals to ensure they focus clearly on what concerns us the most;
    Reset our national security strategy so that it reflects a cost-effective balance among the security instruments at our disposal and uses those instruments in cost-effective ways; and
    Reform our system of producing defense assets so it.

News links on President Obama’s proposed rollback in planned security spending, his call for a strategic review, and the Pentagon’s reaction:

DOD: Finding More Savings In Defense Budget Means Nixing Missions. Christopher J. Castelli. Inside Defense, 13 April 2011.

Obama Calls for Sweeping Review of U.S. Military Strategy. Sandra Erwin. National Defense, 13 April 2011.

Pentagon warns on big defense cuts. Missy Ryan and Jim Wolf. Reuters, 13 April 2011.

Defence chief warns against planned cuts. Daniel Dombey and James Politi. Financial Times, 14 April 2011.

Events frequently overtake long-term Pentagon planning. Megan Scully. Government Executive, 14 April 2011.

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