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'Aspirational' vs. 'Operational' Military Budget Cutting

August 12, 2010 ·

It seems as though our Secretary of Defense is experiencing an internal conflict.

Quiz:  Who said this? “Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China.”

And this: “As we learned last year, you don’t necessarily need a billion-dollar guided missile destroyer to chase down and deal with a bunch of teenage pirates wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.”

And this: “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

Would you believe, the current Secretary of Defense?

Such musings have led him to mount the most serious effort to restrain his own budget of any Defense Secretary since the post-Cold War period. He deserves credit for this.

But look at what he said when asked about his carrier talking point: “I may want to change things, but I’m not crazy. I’m not going to cut a carrier, okay?”

So what we seem to have is an “Aspirational Gates,” who wants to cut weapons systems we don’t need, and an “Operational Gates,” who knows he needs to keep such aspirations in bounds.

What the Operational Gates isn’t doing is cutting his budget. The $100 billion he wants to cut is a lot less than it sounds, because:

  • It’s spread over five years.
  • All but $7 billion of it will be “done” after he is likely no longer around to see that it actually is done.
  • Most importantly, his plan is to shift any savings to other programs within his own budget.

And, the longest unbroken surge in military spending in U.S. history will continue. Gates’ plan to slow its rate of growth is being redefined as budget cutting.

But since, as he has also mentioned, we are spending nearly as much on the military as the rest of the world put together. And since we are seriously in need of money, we need to do better than this.

Today the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget releases its blueprint for $75 billion in cuts that can be made safely--increasing Gates’ plans for military cuts next year by a factor of 10. 

The Aspirational Gates could really get behind this.