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U.S. Needs New National Security Plan To Survive ‘Catastrophic’ Defense Cuts

Posted by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett on

In an article penned exclusively for Breaking Defense, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett weighs in on what needs to be done to maintain U.S. national security goals in light of the economic difficulties facing the country.

There are those who argue that with our current national strategy, additional deep cuts to our military, as would occur under sequester, would be catastrophic. We agree. But it seems clear to most that our financial plight and the realities of the world we live in require a new national strategy. Until we have completed that exercise we have no way of knowing how much more might be cut without risk to our national security. The thoughts contained herein address that decision making process. I am on the House Armed Services Committee and am deeply concerned that we continue to support a military adequate to the security needs of our country. But there must be a rationalization between the magnitude of our military might and the necessity to develop a financial policy that avoids bankruptcy of our country. With a debt that grows another $1 billion every six hours with no plateau in sight, this is a daunting challenge. These two demands, an adequate military and the avoidance of national bankruptcy, must share risks equitably.

Our deficit is hundreds of billions of dollars larger than all of our discretionary spending. Thus, if we had no Department of Defense, no Department of Homeland Security, no CIA or FBI or any of the other myriads of government agencies and programs, we would still have a deficit of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Defense is more than half of all discretionary spending. These numbers reflect two fundamental realities: First, we cannot balance our budget without controlling the explosive growth of entitlement programs. Second, if we’re ever going to balance the budget, we need to cut all discretionary spending programs including defense.

But how can we cut further the defense budget without putting our nation at risk?

In large measure, the factors that ultimately determine the size of the defense budget are beyond the practical control of the congressional defense committees and our military. Our foreign policy has our troops in more than 100 countries, driving up defense costs. Wars, and especially protracted wars like Iraq and Afghanistan, drive up the cost of defense. Nation-building projects- in which we depend on our troops to carry out functions related to the economic, social and political development of Afghanistan and Iraq that fall far outside of our military’s core mission-drive up defense costs.

In addition, defense costs are driven skyward because there really is what President Eisenhower termed a “military-industrial complex” comprising a powerful trifecta–the military, the defense industry, and Congress. Congress supports increased spending because the defense industry intentionally spreads its industrial base over as many states as possible, in part to build a political machine for procuring defense dollars, in partnership with the Congress. If all politics are local, then it is understandable that Congressmen and Senators will vote their districts interests, and convince themselves that they are voting for the national interest. And so the defense budget grows.

Now that the Cold War is long over, is it really necessary for the United States to maintain a military presence in so many nations, and so many far-flung military bases over the globe, in order to support its role as “world policeman”? The U.S. spends almost as much money on defense as all the rest of the world. We spend more on defense than the next eleven countries combined, and nine of theose countries are allies of ours. Surely our national interest would be better served by policies that encourage our allies to bear the burden of their own defense so that they have the military capability to police their own neighborhoods. We are the first “empire” in history where imperialism operates in reverse–all of the economic benefits flow to our allies, or to nations we have defeated, emptying our coffers.

We must learn to be more parsimonious with our wars, reserving military force as a last resort, and undertaking grave consideration of the human and financial costs that will be incurred before we begin the effort. We must recognize that the cost of wars does not end when the shooting stops. Recent history has shown that extraordinary costs continue at home with veteran services, and these expenses continue to empty our national treasuries long into the future.

There are also cost savings to be found in baseline Department of Defense budgeting. Is it really necessary for the United States to procure costly new generations of weapons systems, mostly legacies from the Cold War, when existing weapons will suffice for the conflicts of today? Rather, our precious defense dollars should be invested in research and development so that America is ready to face modern threats. For example, an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) or cyber attack could collapse the critical infrastructures that sustain the lives of millions of Americans. The Department of Defense should work cooperatively with the Department of Homeland Security to be ready for these kinds of unconventional threats.

We also must recognize that some of the most fundamental dangers to our national security may fall beyond traditional military threats. Our dependence on fossil fuels makes us tremendously vulnerable. The worldwide demand for oil is increasing at such a rapid rate that it will eventually pass available oil production, resulting in sharp price spikes. From a national security perspective, it is time to cut our addiction to foreign oil, and to transition to domestic, cleaner and renewable energy sources. Some of the resources currently devoted to protecting the supply of oil must be redirected to advancing renewable and clean energy.

The decline of America’s industrial base also undermines our national security. We must have national policies that create a “Make it in America” economy, producing state of the art transportation and clean energy systems. We have known for decades that the strongest manufacturing sector is the key to economic and military security. To keep our country safe and prosperous, we need to remain on the cutting edge of technological innovation and production, ensuring our leadership in the global economy.

With the right national strategy for the use of our military, we might significantly cut the defense budget without putting our nation at risk. Indeed, it is long overdue that we re-think some of the fundamentals driving our defense budget. We might find that we can significantly cut the defense budget and improve our national security with an appropriate national strategy for use of our military in the defense of our country.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett is the chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and a senior member of the House Armed Services Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee

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