“Every man has his price,” the saying goes. The Obama administration has been banking on this when it comes to Senate support for the New START arms control treaty with Russia.
Concerns over the treaty’s loopholes, counting rules, verification issues, and impact on U.S. non-nuclear and missile defense capabilities have jeopardized Senate support for New START. Recognizing that the next Senate will be an even tougher sell than this one, the administration is making a full-court press to obtain the Senate’s advice and consent to ratification during this lame-duck session. And there is an air of desperation in its approach.
One of the most serious thinkers on arms control and nuclear matters in the Senate is Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. Kyl has long been concerned that the administration’s goal of eventually eliminating nuclear weapons will in the meantime leave us with a nuclear complex that is dangerously underfunded and incapable of maintaining a reliable and effective nuclear deterrent. Because Senator Kyl speaks with authority on these matters, his opinions carry weight with fellow Republicans and many national security experts. So the administration has been seeking his support for a quick vote on New START by offering to bolster funding for modernization of the U.S. nuclear enterprise.
Earlier this year, the administration proposed a ten percent increase in funding for parts of the nuclear weapons complex, resulting in an $80 billion-plus program for nuclear modernization over the next decade. In an effort to sweeten the pot and overcome growing resistance to ratification, they recently proposed an additional $4.1 billion over the next five years.
While the administration’s nuclear modernization proposals are welcome, they can also be seen as a transparent attempt to buy votes in favor of New START. In a report to Congress released by the White House last week, the administration argues that its funding proposals “demonstrate the priority the administration’s (sic.) places on maintaining the safety, security and effectiveness of the deterrent.” Nevertheless, there is real reason to question the administration’s commitment to an adequate nuclear modernization program.
In a Washington Post forum over the weekend, our Defending Defense project partner Mackenzie Eaglen and AEI colleague Fred Kagan joined Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Jane Harman, and others to debate whether “America needs to cut defense spending.” Fred and Kim Kagan offered the following:
There is no basis either in the present global security situation or in trends looking forward to suggest that the requirements for the U.S. military will diminish significantly. Cutting defense, therefore, can be justified only on the grounds that there are greater priorities than safeguarding the nation from visible threats. Protecting the American people from external attack is one of the few indisputable core functions of the federal government. Global economic downturns generally exacerbate instability, fuel unexpected outbursts of extremism and militancy, and drive those states with the greatest interest in maintaining global stability and the best ability to do so to turn inward and allow the world to slip into chaos. America must avoid repeating this mistake and must be prepared for the conflicts that are likely to ensue.
Mackenzie presented a similar argument:
To cut defense responsibly, the president would first have to decide which of our commitments abroad could be abandoned safely—no easy task, given the scope of threats we face. And…simply axing defense today—the primary and only mandatory function of government—means we’ll have to spend more later to rebuild.
Check out the full story.
(Photo: flickr/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Tony Curtis, U.S. Navy)
Speaking at the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put his finger on the central problem with the sweeping budget cuts proposed last week by the co-chairs of the White House’s deficit commission:
“The truth of the matter is when it comes to the deficit, the Department of Defense is not the problem,” the SECDEF explained. “And I think in terms of the specifics they came up with, that’s essentially math, not strategy.”
The Secretary’s first point is right on target. As we argued in the first Defending Defense project briefing,
the idea that defense cuts will restore fiscal health simply does not add up: suppose Pentagon spending for 2011—$720 billion—were eliminated entirely. This would only halve this year’s federal deficit of $1.5 trillion. And defense spending is a drop in the ocean of today’s $13.3 trillion of government debt. From the Korean War to the collapse of the Soviet Union, total U.S. defense spending was about $4.7 trillion.8 So had there been no military spending at all during the Cold War, the savings would not equal even half our current national debt.
More importantly, though, the budget cuts and program cancellations proposed in the Simpson-Bowles draft are haphazard and non-strategic—according to Gates, they would have a “catastrophic” effect on the military’s warfighting capability. For instance, as my colleagues Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly have pointed out, the cancellation of the vertical take-off-and-landing version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for instance, along with the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the early buy of V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, would seriously compromise the Marine Corps’ ability to operate in future contingencies as independently and effectively as it has Iraq and Afghanistan. What’s more, a proposed 15% cut to Pentagon procurement accounts would guarantee further delays in the much-needed recapitalization of an aging military which has been stretched thin over the last nine years of conflict.
The Simpson-Bowles recommendations are just the sort of mandates Gates was hoping to head-off when he launched a campaign last year to cancel “programs that [weren’t] working” and, more recently, to find $100 billion overhead savings within DOD over 5 years (savings which, the SECDEF promised, would be rolled back into the Pentagon’s weapons-buying coffers). Although budget pressure from the White House has certainly been a key motivation in the Secretary’s belt-tightening efforts, Gates could no doubt articulate a strategic rationale for his cuts, and explain in some depth how he has sought to “develop the broadest capabilities for the widest range of scenarios and sustain the strength this country needs,” as he said yesterday.
It would be a surprise if the deficit commission chairmen could offer a similar strategic justification; it appears that there was little or no consideration given to the impact their proposed cuts would have on the health and effectiveness of the United States’ armed forces, or the additional national security risk the United States would assume as a result. Their commitment to “rethinking our 21st century global role,” however, gives some hint as to the ultimate objective, beyond a balanced budget, they hope to achieve.
(flickr/DoD photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, U.S. Air Force)
Over at the Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt offer their initial assessment of the deficit commission’s proposed defense budget cuts:
Do conservatives want a smaller and better government than we now have—properly limited and governed by the rule of law, but also energetically capable of accomplishing its appropriate ends? Or do conservatives just want to cut government willy-nilly, not only reducing its overall size but endangering its ability to carry out its proper functions?
Some on the anti-all-government right are salivating at the chance, as the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) puts it, to slay the “sacred cow” of Pentagon budgets. Meanwhile, the Democratic left, in the person of Barney Frank, is more than willing to engage in such “scrutiny,” and is now rallying behind the proposal of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the heads of President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, to cut more than $100 billion in “excess” military spending. And the media, of course, are all agog at the possibility of a “bipartisan” consensus on ending the supposedly profligate ways of the Pentagon.
There’s only one thing wrong with this alleged consensus: Its facts are wrong, and there’s no real consensus.
The fact is, Simpson and Bowles are outliers even on their own panel. Knowing that few of the other members of the commission would go along with their ideas, the co-chairs announced their proposals on their own. They had good reason to do so. Much of what they offer up makes little sense. As Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute has noted, the proposals “bespeak a broader ignorance of military plans and technology.”
Consider just one example. Bowles and Simpson suggest terminating the procurement of the vertical take-off-and-landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, along with the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV). They also want to end early the buy of V-22 Osprey “tilt-rotor” aircraft. But such moves would gut the capabilities of the U.S. Marine Corps. The “B” variant of the F-35 (a replacement for the old Harrier jump-jet), the EFV (a new amphibious assault vehicle), and the Osprey all provide troop transport. Without these systems, the Marines will have very little organic firepower and mobility; they’ll be simply sea-based light infantry. The commission chairmen, therefore, suggest the Marines substitute mortars and guided missiles. But in that case the Marines would still lack the ability to conduct the kind of independent campaigns they waged in Operation Desert Storm or in the 2003 march to Baghdad.
Such is the consequence of a salami-slicing approach to defense spending. Bowles and Simpson also recommend a 15 percent cut in Pentagon procurement accounts. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates has already cut $330 billion in planned weapons spending in the last year alone, killing the Air Force’s frontline F-22 fighter, the Navy’s program for a new destroyer, and the Army’s plan for a family of new combat vehicles.
Before taking a further hatchet to defense, maybe Congress might try making a more serious effort to reverse the huge increases in domestic spending put in place by the Obama team?
What really ties ATR, Barney Frank, Erksine Bowles, and Alan Simpson together is not a desire to see the Pentagon spend its money in the most efficient way possible. No, what ultimately drives their push for defense cuts is the idea of, in Bowles and Simpson’s phrase, “rethinking our 21st century global role.” This is shorthand for a reduced American role in the world. What the libertarian right and liberal left want, in other words, is nothing short of a reversal in America’s six-decade-long strategic posture.
Defense Secretary Gates offered encouraging comments yesterday in Australia about the nature of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan after July 2011. Taliban fighters anticipating a precipitous U.S. withdrawal next summer, Gates explained, are “going to be very surprised come August, September, October and November, when most American forces are still there, and still coming after them.”
That’s good news. But what about 2012 and beyond? Both Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that the security transition will be conditions-based and carried out in close consultation with coalition commanders on the ground and the Afghan government (read: gradual). Beyond that, “we’re going to remain a partner of Afghanistan even after our troops are gone,” Gates explained. “We walked away from Afghanistan in 1988, and we saw the consequences of that in 2001.” Similar pledges of long-term support will no doubt characterize the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon, at which NATO’s security transition plan will likely be the central topic.
On a related note, the Canadian government has reportedly agreed to leave 750 military trainers and roughly 200 support personnel in Kabul until 2014, following the conclusion of Canada’s combat mission next summer. The contribution should help to alleviate the current trainer deficit, which Lieutenant General William Caldwell, commander of the NATO Training Mission, noted in his year-in-review report, released yesterday. Caldwell put it bluntly, in a message that should catch the attention of the Lisbon delegates: “No trainers, no transition.”
(flickr/DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson, U.S. Air Force)
The Washington Post reports this morning that the United States is escalating its counterterrorism campaign in Yemen, with the deployment of Predator drones. “Pressed on whether the drones would be free to shoot,” the Post explained, an “administration official said, ‘The only thing that does fall into the ‘no’ category right now is boots on the ground.’” Beyond the drones, the CIA and Special Operations Forces presence in the country is also reported to be expanding.
For detailed analysis on Yemen and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, check out AEI’s Critical Threats Project.
(flickr/U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)
Yesterday, ranking House Armed Services Committee Republican Howard “Buck” McKeon released a statement outlining in broad terms the committee’s new priorities:
America remains a nation at war. More than 150,000 of our sons and daughters are deployed around the globe in the fight against al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies. The top priority of the Armed Services Committee, as outlined in the House Republicans’ Pledge to America, will be to work in a bipartisan manner to provide those brave warfighters the resources and support they need to succeed in their missions and return home safely…
Our citizens have spoken, and they want a defense budget that is sufficient to address the challenges of today and the threats of tomorrow. One percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts which are critical to protecting our nation’s homeland.
Based on McKeon’s statement, which pledged “renewed emphasis on oversight…directly tied to the front-line war fighter in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Politico’s “Morning Defense” today predicted that “the new Congress will drive the conversation back to the wars, just as Obama’s planned pullout deadlines approach.”
But as FPI policy advisor and Defending Defense project contributor John Noonan noted yesterday at the Weekly Standard blog, the focus on modernization—at the HASC and beyond—will be just as important:
Requests to push the Navy’s end-strength up to 313 ships will likely be viewed favorably by new Republican members, along with concerns about an emerging “fighter gap” as the F-22’s production line winds down and the F-35’s deployment date experiences further delays. The Air Force could see significant resources vectored toward upgrading its nuclear infrastructure, the condition of which was called into question after a severe breakdown in command and control systems last week. (Senator Barrasso from Wyoming has directly linked nuke modernization to the passage of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.) And missile defense programs, which have atrophied over the past two years, will be the beneficiaries of increased resourcing.
“More funds will go to missile defense,” says a House GOP aide. “Not only deploying missile defense, but holding the Administration accountable to the system that they developed. That includes capabilities needed to counter Chinese plans for anti-access and area deniability.”
As Noonan notes, what will increase the likelihood of expanded modernization investment is the guarantee that any savings accrued in the course of Defense Secretary Gates’ search for $100 billion in Pentagon efficiencies will be rolled back into DOD coffers—a plan supported by Rep. Paul Ryan, likely Budget Committee chairman.
In a letter to the editors of the Wall Street Journal Asia last month, Shashank Joshi took issue with our recent op-ed on the burgeoning Sino-Indian nuclear competition. Joshi argues that there is no “arms race” between the two (nor, for the record, did we argue that there is one at present) and that what we are instead witnessing is, simply, “the painstaking process of establishing stable deterrence.”
On the one hand, we agree with Joshi. India’s strategic force modernization appears to be, in large part, an effort to catch up with and balance China’s growing capabilities. When China presents a new threat, India must find a way to defend against or deter it.
Yet China seems to always find new ways to destabilize the deterrence relationship. The opening of a submarine base on Hainan Island, near the eastern approaches to the Indian Ocean, is a case in point. The PLA’s deployment there of two new Jin-class ballistic missile submarines (the operational status of which is unknown) is another. (India, meanwhile, is following up with new boats of its own).
But of concern for India, beyond China’s modernization efforts, are its doctrinal innovations. While the People’s Republic nominally maintains its “no first use” policy and minimal deterrence nuclear posture, growing evidence—as outlined in the Defense Department’s 2009 report on China’s military power, which we cite in the op-ed—suggests that Beijing is seeking a greater role for its strategic assets in its national security strategy. In other words, China may be much less interested in “establishing stable deterrence” than it is in developing the capabilities to more effectively coerce its neighbors.
If China’s strategic force modernization continues apace, the PLA moves forward with the development of its satellite reconnaissance resources (thus making it much easier to track shifts in the posture of India’s nuclear assets), and the PRC reconsiders the role of its deterrent in the escalation of conflict, India may find it very difficult to maintain the minimum deterrence posture Joshi describes.
Joshi writes that “an arms race results when countries take an open-ended view of deterrence, assuming that they must match their adversary weapon-for-weapon.” Faced in the future with a potential adversary whose strategic reliance on its nuclear forces appears to be growing, it just might be prudent for India to match China warhead-for-warhead. So much for stable deterrence.
Debate about the war in Afghanistan, the United States global security responsibilities, and the state of the defense budget has been largely absent in the midterm campaigns, notes CDS director Tom Donnelly in the Weekly Standard. “But they will be part of the legislative agenda for a new Congress” he explains, “and they will be an important benchmark in judging who should be our next president.” Read on…