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Real Cuts, Real Jobs, Real Danger: The Defense Budget Crisis

Posted by Marion Blakey on

With the Supercommittee’s wreckage still smoldering in Congress, the prospect of an additional half trillion dollars in cuts to our national defense budget isn’t hypothetical anymore. For an overstretched military needing to reset after a decade of war and the 13 million Americans already looking for work, it’s a disaster.

But amazingly, even as expert after expert warns these cuts would hollow out our military and explode the unemployment crisis, many still are in denial. Like courtiers urging Nero to keep on fiddling, some go so far as to claim that sequestration will actually make things better. Particularly irresponsible is the common-sense-defying suggestion by “anonymously funded academics” at the University of Massachusetts that cutting defense investments won’t actually destroy American jobs, it will create them! With Congress facing the toughest possible decisions on these issues, America deserves a frank, honest debate grounded in the facts, not wishful thinking or superficial scholarship that obscures more than it explains.

However rosy things may look from the ivy-covered walls at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, the experts on the real front lines of this debate are in virtually unanimous agreement– cutting investment in research and development and new systems will cost critical high-skill jobs that drive middle-class growth and fuel the strongest military in the world.

The Pentagon believes an additional half trillion in cuts would add a full point to the national unemployment rate. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon says the total jobs lost could rise as high as 1.5 million. Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, who has performed this kind of analysis for governments for years, concludes that cuts to procurement and research alone would kill a million jobs and suck $86 billion out of the national economy in 2013. This would kneecap an aerospace defense workforce that has been a national treasure for decades –- one that has birthed a host of civilian and military technologies and capabilities that have long been the envy of the world.

In response to this overwhelming consensus, critics offer a single argument: if funds from defense were redirected to their own favored priorities – in this case “green jobs” and education – that would create better jobs to replace the ones being eliminated. This is a complete non-sequitur. We fund the military to protect the nation, not simply to create jobs and arguments about some supposed “best” way to create “the most” jobs miss the point.

Beyond this lies an even more fundamental problem. Hypothetical proposals to re-allocate defense funds to serve other agendas might win favor in certain quarters, but they simply have no connection to the actual debate boiling in Washington today. No one in the Congress is talking about redirecting sequestered funds to other uses. While Amherst professors might wish things were otherwise, Congress has legislated cuts, pure and simple, earmarked to reduce the deficit and not for any other purpose.

Investments in other industries also matter, of course, and that’s why Congress has had extensive debate in recent years about funding new green energy operations for example. It’s worth nothing that the success of government investment in green energy has had mixed results.

A recent study of Spain’s massive effort to create millions of new green jobs by government investment in renewable industry finds a very poor outcome. After 10 years, 2.2 Spanish jobs were destroyed for every “green job” created and only 10 percent of those “green jobs” were permanent in nature.

But those are separate discussions, distinct from whether or not to let a half-trillion dollar sequestration decimate our armed forces and put over a million Americans out of work. Do those jobs not matter to critics simply because they flow from national security investments? Is the suffering of these families any less important because they work on military projects unpopular in some quarters?

As for the national security impact, well, the facts are even more frightening. A bipartisan chorus of experts agrees – sequestration will take an overextended military and drive it towards the breaking point. Defense has already been slashed to just 16% of the budget, well below the post-Vietnam average of 21%, and that’s before the first round of Budget Control Act reductions are taken into account.

Congressional and Pentagon leaders have documented the fallout: the smallest Army, Navy, and Air Force in generations, the end of “most” new research and modernization programs. With his typical directness, Secretary Panetta warns this would force a new defense strategy on the nation, one that “assumes unacceptable risk in future combat operations.” It’s no surprise the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services committees unanimously reject this approach.

Unfortunately, in response to these detailed factual analyses, critics offer little more than superficial bromides. America spends far more than many other nations on its military, they argue, so there can be no security risk from cuts. If we pull back in the world, our allies can just step forward.

However, Libya showed how indispensable U.S. air power remains, particularly in stealth, surveillance, refueling, and drones. The USS Florida submarine fired 90 cruise missiles in the opening days of the conflict – 50% more than Britain’s entire stockpile, and that’s one of our best-equipped allies.

As a security matter, these arguments auger a world very different from our own, one that most Americans would reject. Since World War II, America has played a unique role keeping the global peace, deterring aggression and ensuring economic freedom. Would critics have a North Korean fleet patrol Pacific shipping lanes, or leave it to locals to keep Somali pirates at bay?

America’s aerospace and defense industrial base is a strategic national asset, one that has fueled our battlefield advantage and helped build the world’s greatest middle class economy here at home, and that truly emblemizes America as Second to None.

It exists today because of smart decisions made by our leaders in decades past. Whether it exists tomorrow will depend on us.

Marion Blakey, a member of the Breaking Defense Board of Contributors, leads the Aerospace Industries Association, America’s premier aerospace and defense lobby group. Blakey was the first woman to head the Federal Aviation Administration.

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