National security leaders warn that proposed military spending reductions by the deficit-reduction super committee will have “catastrophic effects,” inflict “irrevocable wounds” and “critically compromise national security.” That is why the committee’s pending decision could very well become the tipping point for America’s military.
The special bipartisan deficit-reduction super committee, officially known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, is made up of 12 lawmakers who must find $1.2 trillion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving or automatic cuts will kick in, with half coming from defense. Those cuts on top of others could dangerously degrade our military’s capabilities but help the Obama administration avoid cuts to other federal programs to garner political support from Independents and mitigate the energy of the Tea Party.
National defense is responsible for 20% of federal discretionary spending, but the Pentagon has already suffered deep cuts. That is why Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified last week that the possibility of another $600 billion in cuts over 10 years would be “catastrophic” and “truly devastate our national defense.” Those cuts are about 10% of the total Department of Defense budget, not including Overseas Contingency Operations accounts, and with the previous reductions included, it is about 15%.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that such additional cuts “would cause self-inflicted and potentially irrevocable wounds to our national security,” according to the New York Times.
On Oct. 14, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R.-Calif.), chairman for the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), sounded a similar warning in a letter to the super committee. McKeon wrote that further reductions “will compound deep reductions Congress has already imposed and critically compromise national security.”
Rep. McKeon wrote he agreed with the super committee’s goal of federal deficit reduction, but reminded the members that “not all elements of the federal budget are equal.” Constitutionally, our government’s first priority must be providing for the common defense.
Deep defense cuts might be appropriate if threats weren’t growing. But we face real and growing danger from rogues such as Iran and North Korea, which are developing nuclear weapons. China is rapidly militarizing to near peer status with the U.S., and Russia is reemerging as a significant power, modernizing its nuclear arsenal.
Our military is also in the 10th year of war. We are due to leave Iraq by the end of the year (maybe), but we will still be involved in Afghanistan at least until 2014. Once those forces leave the battlefield, they will require funding for equipment reset.
But last week, Gen. Dempsey predicted our forces will still be fighting the current conflicts for years to come. He told an Army audience that one of the military’s goals during his stint is to “achieve our national objectives in the current conflicts,” according to TheHill.com. He went on to say, “That won’t happen during my tenure,” which is expected to last four years.
Rep. McKeon reminded the super committee that the Pentagon is already on an austerity diet. President Obama and the Congress agreed this summer to an estimated $465 billion reduction over 10 years. The impact of those cuts could be significant.
That austerity plan calls for cutting 120,000 soldiers and Marines, reducing our overseas presence, reducing the civilian workforce by 110,000 personnel, reducing our nuclear triad (submarines, bombers, missiles), and cutting force structure: 20% fewer Army maneuver battalions, 10% fewer Air Force aircraft and 10% fewer ships.
Gen. Dempsey testified he is trying to determine the impact of these cuts. He volunteered that the Pentagon is conducting a strategic review to reduce missions, such as in Africa.
“Our presence on the African continent is part of our network of building partners, of gaining intelligence,” Dempsey testified. But such missions will be cut, as well as those in Latin America, in order to keep a presence in the Pacific region to counter China, and in the Middle East to fight al-Qaeda and monitor Iran.
Should the super committee fail this fall, defense appropriations will be slashed another $600 billion. That impact, according to an assessment released by the HASC Republican staff, could be dire. Or viewed cynically, the memo is largely hyperbola to get the most political attention. Judge for yourself.
Those cuts, when put on top of others already planned, would put defense spending at the lowest level since before World War II and diminish end-strength by nearly 200,000 soldiers and Marines, while another 200,000 from the civilian workforce would be furloughed. That would dump many heroes into a bad job market where unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan vets is at 22% and among wounded vets it is 41%.
There is also the issue of breaking faith with our military. There are proposals to slash military retirement by those who don’t understand it is deferred compensation for long and dangerous service in austere settings. Reforming retirement and cutting veteran health care, along with other benefits now under the knife, would risk devastating the all-volunteer military’s recruitment and retention and seriously jeopardize readiness.
These draconian cuts could also mean America would not be able to fulfill all its security commitments. Specifically, we would have insufficient force structure to “decisively win an engagement in one theater while defending vital interests in another,” according to the HASC Republican staff. It puts our response to contingencies in North Korea and Iran at risk, it could eliminate two carrier battle groups, and it increases the need to mobilize reserves.
There would be dramatic reductions in force structure that would limit the Pentagon’s ability to support the national military strategy. Specifically, the HASC staff indicates Army maneuver battalions could decline by 40% (100 to 60), Navy ships could decline by 18% (288 to 238) and Air Force platforms could decline 24% (2,776 to 2,107).
Marine Corps operations would suffer significant degradation. No longer would the Marines be capable of conducting an opposed amphibious landing with two brigades, in part because the number of amphibious ships could be cut from the required 38 to 17. Noncombatant evacuations and humanitarian and disaster assistance missions would be cut back, and fewer Marines would be afloat for emergencies.
Our nuclear deterrence could diminish. Cuts would undermine our nuclear triad—our ability to detect and defend against missile attack, nuclear weapons inventories, and satellite space-launch capabilities. These cuts could cause allies and adversaries to question our ability to provide a nuclear response to an attack, concludes the Republican staff.
Military infrastructure and the industrial base could suffer a serious blow. Shipyards could be closed, long-planned military construction projects may be scuttled, and a new round of Base Realignment and Closure would be necessary. Much of the armed services’ equipment modernization and recapitalization could be put on hold or canceled, including the Joint Strike Fighter and the much-needed aerial refueling tanker.
Defense spending may be discretionary, but constitutionally national security is government’s top responsibility. We live in a dangerous world which demands a significant armed force to protect America across all domains—air, land, sea, space and cyberspace.
America must get its fiscal house in order, and defense should share the burden. But providing national security on the cheap to avoid cutting social programs to help Democrats’ political fortunes is wrongheaded, and may in fact create a tipping point for America as the world’s leading military power.