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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "defense"

Sequestration: Our Military is Due for Downsizing

February 22, 2013 ·

Sequestration wouldn't gut military

This strange animal called sequestration is certainly wreaking havoc with our customary ideological boundaries. 

If you’re an advocate, Iike I am, for revamped federal priorities that shift resources from a bloated Pentagon budget toward neglected domestic priorities, your take on this animal can’t be simple. You say cutting everything indiscriminately is a bad way to run a government (this view is nearly universal). You oppose the cuts in the domestic budget that will leave us with fewer food safety inspectors, medical researchers, Head Start teachers, and airport baggage screeners on the job. But you can reel off long lists of ways to cut waste in the Pentagon budget to the levels prescribed by sequestration, and show that these cuts will leave us completely safe.

But you also know that the whole conversation is focused on the wrong topic. It’s past time to shift this conversation away from austerity and toward investment to create jobs, as clear majorities of voters said in November was what they wanted.

Now let’s look at the Washington Post’s blogger who says he writes “from a liberal perspective,” Greg Sargent. On Wednesday he went at the Republican position on sequestration, wielding a new report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. The report found that the single most important cause of increased income inequality in recent years is the favored tax treatment given to capital gains and stock dividends — i.e. what the rich have used to get richer.

The Democrats, as Sargent points out, want to change this, taxing the rich and using the proceeds to replace the sequester cuts. The Republicans want to stick with sequestration and keep this favored treatment for the rich.

But all of this puts the Republicans, says Sargent, in the position of “openly conceding that the sequester will gut the military.” It’s a concession that Sargent appears to be taking at face value. Or at least not calling into question.

Gut the military? That’s what the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been saying any chance they get. Sequestration would “invite aggression,” says lingering Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. It will “put the nation at greater risk of coercion,” says the Joint Chiefs Chair, Martin Dempsey. When asked at a recent congressional hearing which nation might coerce us, though, he couldn’t say.

In fact, sequestration will not “gut” our military. Our military budget has nearly doubled since 2001. Sequestration would take it back to the level it was in 2007 — when we were still fighting two wars. Adjusted for inflation, it would leave that budget higher than its Cold War average — when we had an adversary that was spending roughly what we were on its military. Now, as Michael Cohen notes in The Guardian, the closest thing to a peer adversary we have is China, and we are spending more on research and development of new weapons than the Chinese are spending on their entire military. We spend more on our military, in fact, than the next 14 countries put together.

After the longest period of war in our history, we are due for a defense downsizing. Sequestration would create a shallower downsizing than any of the previous postwar periods since World War II. We can do this, and we should. We need the money for other things.

As sequestration threatens to confuse us all, let’s be sure to stay clear on that, at least.

Sequestering Military Spending

November 21, 2011 ·

In its final stages, debate over the supercommittee has boiled down to squeezing new revenues out of millionaires vs. cutting the social safety net. The largest portion of the discretionary budget, however, funds the military — and that fact has been mostly obscured in this equation. With the panel in its final death throes, military spending is emerging from the shadows in the form of “defense sequestration.” This is the requirement that failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, half of which would come from the Pentagon's coffers.

Thirteen straight years of military spending increases have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget. Photo by expertinfantry.Scare tactics don’t tend to produce entirely sensible legislation, and this one is no exception. Yet can these cuts be made with no sacrifice to our security? Emphatically, yes.

The Pentagon and its allies in industry and Congress are warning us over and over that this “doomsday” scenario will leave us weakened and vulnerable. They're ignoring several pretty important facts. The “sequestration” cuts, added to those already planned, would bring our military spending, in inflation-adjusted terms, to its 2007 level. Was anyone talking about doomsday then?

Thirteen straight years of military increases, moreover, have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget (excluding war spending), bringing it to its highest level since World War II. And these increases have actually expanded the gap between U.S. military spending and the rest of the world. At the beginning of this period, we were spending about a third of the world’s total. Now we're spending about half.

Even if sequestration cuts across all military programs, this sort of ham-handed approach is safely doable. Our blank-check approach to military spending in this century has created waste in every program, waiting to be trimmed. Even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta works to protect his budget at the expense of all others, his Pentagon remains the only federal department that can't pass an audit of its books.

The Project On Government Oversight has calculated that simply cutting back by 15 percent on the privatization of military functions that has occurred in this period would save $300 billion over 10 years.

Is sequestration the best way to manage a defense drawdown? No. For one thing, the best way would make choices based on how much we need to spend, on what, to keep us safe. A new security strategy could allow us to question, for example, the need for our current “forward presence,” which has between 105 and 125 ships cruising around three oceans nearly all the time, and target savings accordingly in the naval budget. Sequestration bypasses this kind of thinking.

Nor would the sequestration “haircut” do anything good for our enduring unemployment crisis. Military cuts, it is true, will have a smaller impact on jobs than other cuts in the domestic discretionary budget. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts found that $1 billion in military spending sustains about 11,000 jobs as compared to about 17,000 from an equivalent amount of spending on clean energy. Let's cut spending on military programs we don’t need and invest those savings in job creation by making things we do need.

This is the kind of vision laid out in a new report from my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. It outlines a set of cuts to those military programs we don’t need, and combines that with fiscal reforms and pollution taxes. The result would be more than $800 billion we can invest in building the kind of country we all deserve.

'Aspirational' vs. 'Operational' Military Budget Cutting

August 12, 2010 ·

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.

New Thinking on Cutting the Deficit

June 14, 2010 ·

The Hill reported Friday on a congressional panel, commissioned by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), which proposed a new mindset toward defense:

The Sustainable Defense Task Force, a commission of scholars from a broad ideological spectrum…laid out actions the government could take that could save as much as $960 billion between 2011 and 2020.

Measures presented by the task force include making significant reductions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which has strong support from Defense Secretary Robert Gates; delaying the procurement of a new midair refueling tanker the Air Force has identified as one of its top acquisition priorities; and reducing the Navy’s fleet to 230 ships instead of the 313 eyed by the service.

The taskforce also "recommended cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a reduction of 200,000 military personnel, smaller U.S. military presence in Asia and Europe and fewer tactical Air Force fighter wings. Other savings would come from shrinking the Navy to 230 ships from 287 currently, spending less on research, cuts or delays in big weapons programs, and higher health care premiums for the military," according to Reuters.

Even Frank admitted that getting Congress on board with many of these recommendations would be an uphill battle. The acceptance of the recommendations would depend on a “philosophical change" and a “redefinition of the strategy,” Frank said at press conference on Capitol Hill.

But it's time for such a change. The vast amounts of money spent on faulty or deteriorating weapons systems and unused nuclear weapons are sorely needed for jobs, infrastructure, and green technology research. And a good place to start consolidating existing defense funds would be through a unified security budget.  Writes IPS research fellow Miriam Pemberton (who was also on the taskforce):

The budgets they draw up for the Pentagon keep on growing, and the cuts in military programs they support are almost exclusively designed to be plowed back in to other military programs.

As our nation continues to struggle with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, it's even more important that every penny of our tax dollars is spent wisely. It's encouraging to hear Obama administration officials taking a fresh look at more balanced and efficient national security budgeting.

You can read the Sustainable Defense Task Force's full report here.