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Defense and the Debt: Discipline is Good; Sequesters are Not

05 Aug 2011
Posted by Gordon Adams

Secretary Panetta was on point yesterday when he warned against a sequester of defense funding beyond the first tranche of budget disciplne in the new debt agreement. 

But the point he was making is important.  What is not desirable is a sequester - a blunt, across-the-board reduction in agency budgets.  It is about the worst way to cut a budget I know, for it is not driven by planning and choice-making, just mechanics.

What is likely, however, is a deeper reduction in defense budgets than the $400 billion or so over the next decade currently in the debt agreement plan and being implemented by the Pentagon.  That's easy - we could provide DOD with inflation growth over the next ten years and the savings from the current Pentagon budget appetite would be more than $400 billion.

But, as in the past three build-downs that have come (after Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War), the slope down from the current appetite is likely, very likely, to be deeper.  And it can be managed.  $900 billion over ten years, after all, is only 13% of currently projected defense budgets over the decade.  The last build-down we did (started by George H.W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, and Chairman Colin Powell and finished by Clinton and his budget chief, Leon Panetta) saw DOD outlays fall more than 35% between 1985 and 1998.

A $900 billion build-down over the next decade would be more modest and can be done.  For more thoughts and data, see my post today at Battland.  For ideas on how to execute it that leave a powerful, globally dominant military in place, see the piece I wrote with my Stimson Center colleague Matt Leatherman in Foreign Affairs in January, at the Stimson blog, The Will and the Wallet.

Is there any chance that

Is there any chance that budget pressures will lead to a rethink about our role in subsidizing everyone else's defense and acting as world cop?

Or are the interventionists/careerists/thinktanks now so thoroughly dominant in DC that they will attempt to do more on less - until like every other empire in history, we go broke and break?

Just cut McKeon's "most unlikely contingencies"

Panetta is wrong. He is parsing non sense.

Military Industrial Complex, with great margins, is building weapons and sustaining perpetual mobilization for every conceivable reenactment of WW I and II. In the most non strategic far off places. McKeon's most unlikely contingencies.

Wearing it all out chasing thugs and rebels in far off lands with no strategy to yield any strategic benefit.

The budget getting the $350B in "cuts is between 74 and 100% larger than the budget in 2001. That is $6000 to 7800B cut baseline.

None of that money is planned, read the QDR, all fiction.

Having been in the business with Gramm Rudman, I saw no problems what was cut, as 1987 DoD was as profligate as today.

There are no enemies!!

I am deeply dismayed with Obama, and what Panetta is saying.

There will be no veto of the warfare welfare appropriations' bills they yield too many BMWs in district factory parking lots.

One way to keep the defense

One way to keep the defense budget at its current level and actually improve our national defense would be to require all, repeat all, spending for weapons and equipment including uniforms be spent within the United States.

High cost self-destruction

The $900 billion over ten years is more like 6% of the total cost of the perpetual war machine over the decade, assuming no increases.

See, for example:

Indeed, we "saw DOD outlays fall more than 35% between 1985 and 1998" AND we saw the yearly budget deficit shrink to virtually zero.

Hmmm ... could there be a connection?

Insisting on leaving a "powerful, globally dominant military in place" is a very expensive way to make our allies into enemies and our enemies into terrorists. There is no military threat that warrants the expense and the expenditure creates the only threat we face -- all controlling corporate power.

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