by Maxford Nelsen
Last month, the Obama administration proposed the 2013 defense budget, calling for nearly a half trillion dollars in cuts over the next 10 years. However, those cuts are unnecessary, ill-conceived and should cause serious alarm.
Especially in a sour economic climate, the issue of the defense budget is nearly always contentious. Indeed, it is a complex issue with many facets. However, there are misconceived assumptions and oversimplifications that must be addressed before evaluating the specifics of the proposed cuts.
Since the end of WWII, the U.S. military has been perceived as the finest on the globe, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. A look at global defense expenditures shows that the U.S. spends far more money on defense than any other nation. Further- more, the defense budget has increased dramatically in recent years as a result of the War on Terror. Consequently, many people assume we must have plenty of room for cuts.
However, it is patently unwise to assume the automatic supremacy of our military. Ours would not be the first seemingly invincible military to suffer defeat. Indeed, there are two factors in particular that need to be taken into consideration. First, like it or not, the U.S. operates as a global stabilizer. For instance, though it often goes unnoticed, the worldwide presence of the U.S. Navy ensures the secure shipping and free seas necessary for global commerce. No other nation has the capability to operate in this capacity.
Secondly, we also face the most threats. Rick Maze, writing in the Army Times, quotes James Clapper, director of national intelligence, and Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, as they note that “stability in Afghanistan and Iraq is not assured, Iran poses a threat as it gains nuclear weapons and broadens its ties to insurgent forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other global risks continue to present threats to U.S. security and interests … cyber attacks, global organized crime organizations, and regional violence and social upheaval also are threats.” Meanwhile, the Chinese are feverishly expanding their technological capabilities and a belligerent and nuclear-armed North Korea is undergoing a change in leadership.
So while it may be true that we spend the most on defense, it is also true that we have the greatest necessity for a dominant military. Unfortunately, the high defense budgets of recent years have, in large part, not developed our military capabilities. After the end of the Cold War, the Clinton administration gutted military spending. When global conflict escalated in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we found ourselves having to pour billions of dollars into rebuilding a hollowed force. Then there were the wars, costing hundreds of billions of dollars. However, according to Mackenzie Eaglen of the American Enterprise Institute, “little of the money needed to fight the wars did anything to increase the U.S. military’s cutting-edge capabilities.”
Now, with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, Obama is seeking to again sacrifice our military readiness. First of all, the military needs to recoup from nearly a decade of conflict in the Middle East. Equipment must be repaired, replaced and improved. Secondly, we need to think seriously about upgrading our aging conventional forces.
Despite the widespread assumption that the military is on the cutting edge, a work group hosted by the Brookings Institute concluded that “Reagan-era weaponry is wearing out, and the recent increase in procurement spending has not lasted long enough to replenish the nation’s key weapons arsenals with new weaponry … the main elements of DoD’s weapons inventories — fighter jets, armored vehicles, surface vessels and submarines — continue to age.” Some core weapons systems are more than 40 years old.
Beyond diminishing the military’s superiority, that aging puts our soldiers at risk due to equipment failures. For instance, “an Air Force F-15C literally broke in half during flight some years ago. Today, every single Navy cruiser hull has cracks; A-10C Warthogs have fuselage fractures, and the UH-1N Twin Huey helicopter fleet is regularly grounded,” Eaglen said. Furthermore, old equipment increases maintenance costs.
Yet critical programs continue to be cut. The F-22 Raptor, a state-of-the-art fighter, was supposed to re- place the Air Force’s aging F-15 Eagle. According to Eaglen, “the Air Force first wanted 750 F-22s. But over the course of the F-22 program, successive administrations cut the buy from 750 to 648, then 438, 339, 270, and finally, 187 before President Obama terminated production.”
That only increases the strain on our armed forces, which are increasingly expected to do more with less for longer.
However, there are alternatives. Instead of gutting the budget, we should be reforming the procurement process through which the military obtains new equipment. Arthur Herman of the Wall Street Journal writes that “the system has become a bureaucratic nightmare,” which increases the costs of each weapon system procured by about 25 to 50 percent. Herman contends that “changes in military acquisition could not only save hundreds of billions of dollars but could also allow our defense industry to relearn how to build the best possible weapons at the lowest possible cost.”
A bipartisan congressional panel concluded that “the aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force means that a train wreck is coming in the areas of personnel, acquisition, and force structure,” according to Eaglan.
Instead of scoring political points at the expense of our military superiority, the administration should seek to avoid this train wreck by revitalizing the military into a force that no nation would want to tangle with.
Nelsen is a senior majoring in political science. Comments can be sent to email@example.com.