No Time to Gut Defense

Alan W. Dowd writes on defense and security.


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China will increase military spending by 12.7 percent this year. This resumes a decade-long stretch of double-digit increases in Chinese defense spending. From 2000 to 2010, China’s military budget grew at an average of 12.1 percent. The year 2010 was an anomaly, with China’s defense budget increasing by a relatively modest 7.5 percent due to the global economic downturn

Now, contrast China’s buildup with what’s happening to the U.S. military. Conservatives and liberals alike are ready to slash defense spending. Already, projected defense spending has been reduced by some $400 billion over the next decade. If the so-called “super-committee” doesn’t reach agreement on federal spending reforms, it will trigger automatic defense cuts of another $600 billion.

Several weapons systems have been scrapped. Ships have been mothballed. Aging aircraft are being pushed into longer service. And the Pentagon is looking everywhere for more savings. The Navy, for instance, is considering decommissioning the aircraft carrier USS George Washington sometime around 2016—just halfway through the ship’s planned lifespan. Due to maintenance issues with carriers USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy will deploy only nine carrier strike groups as we enter 2012, rather than 11, as Jane’s Defense reports.

Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, encapsulates the dramatic and dangerous trend on this side of the Pacific:  “We had a nearly 550 ship fleet in 1992; today we are projected to drop to 250. At the end of the Cold War, we had 76 Army combat brigades. Today we have 45. We had 82 fighter squadrons, today we have 39. Our bomber fleet is so old, some Air Force pilots are flying the exact same aircraft as their grandfathers…The last B-52, the backbone of our bomber fleet, rolled off the assembly line during the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

This is no time to be cutting—gutting—defense. As Robert Gates warned in his valedictory address, “I have long believed—and I still do—that the defense budget, however large it may be, is not the cause of this country’s fiscal woes….When President Eisenhower warned of the ‘Military Industrial Complex’ in 1961, defense consumed more than half the federal budget, and the portion of the nation’s economic output devoted to the military was about 9 percent. By comparison, this year’s base defense budget…represents less than 15 percent of all federal spending and equates to roughly three and a half percent of GDP.”

“If we are going to reduce the resources and the size of the U.S. military,” he went on, “people need to make conscious choices about what the implications are for the security of the country, as well as for the variety of military operations we have around the world, if lower priority missions are scaled back or eliminated…The tough choices ahead are really about the kind of role the American people—accustomed to unquestioned military dominance for the past two decades—want their country to play in the world.”

In other words, as China rises militarily and America retrenches, we are headed for a different world—and dangerous waters.

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  • Rifleman

    There's plenty of money to pay able bodied people to sit on their cans for two years, to support individual irresponsibility, failed businesses, and take over health care, but our air superiority fighter pilots must fly 40 year old aircraft, and our Marines use 50 year old landing craft? We'll end up paying in blood, like we did in WW2.

  • StephenD

    Streamlining the Military and making clear its objectives while providing for the capability to meet those objectives will go a long way to a viable financial standing for our National Defense. Perhaps a fresh look at the role our military plays is worth the visit. Being the police force for the world just doesn't cut it. Why are we concerned about Libya or now Uganda? Time to come home, consolidate our resources and use them as we must…not how some may think we should.

  • mrbean

    How about a 10% salary cut across for every state and federal employee and elected representative (including their staff and appontees) including the President and that the also pay social security and medicare contribute 5% of their salary towards their pensions. All of them would still be vastly overpaid and over-benefitted compared to the private sector. This is not only fair and but long overdue.

  • maturin20

    160 billion in 2010 is still dwarfed by our 680 billion in the same year. Even if we trimmed 100 billion a year over the next decade, as the article suggests may happen, and if China increases their spending by 12.7% each year, we would still outspend them during that period by about 2.8 trillion dollars.

    • Matt

      The main point of difference between China & The USA in military spending is;
      China is not wasting vast sums of money & has a clear direction of where they are heading. Unlike the US defence industry that has become bloated & lazy through self interest & greed!
      Sometimes a friend needs to hear the harsh reality from a friend.

      • maturin20

        Let's not be too charitable to China. I'm sure waste and ambiguity are issues for them in defense.

  • Herman Caintonette

    The more pertinent question is, why should we be the world's policeman? Cutting off Israel ought to be our first priority, and divesting from our pointless adventures in the Middle East should follow in post haste. Providing for the national defense does not justify invasions of sovereign nations half-way around the world.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    As we disintegrate from within America can be assured that we will be attacked
    from without. It is abundantly clear that we are paying the fare for Islam and
    Communism to overcome the World. If we were to use our own vast oil reserves,
    and put Americans back to work in our own energy industry, the tide of Islam
    will run out of funding. If we replace the Congress that has allowed unlimited
    subversie immegration, illegal immegration, obstructive unnecessary regulation,
    oversized government infested with leftist obstructionists and rebuild American
    manufacturing we can make the comeback. Elimination of government schools,
    resume Civics, Ethics and American History as mandatory education it is
    possible that the American Psyche can be healed and the subverted amoral
    American image can done away with. Many starts in the right direction must
    come about in the next year, the absence of which will be unthinkable.
    William