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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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