The President’s budget request will slash $487 billion from the military over the next ten years, delaying vital next-generation systems and giving the pink slip to 100,000 active duty men and women in uniform.  Unfortunately, this is a budget-driven strategy that kills jobs and puts our military at risk while it is still in harm’s way. Despite increasingly tough talk about the importance of Asia, the Obama administration’s preview of its fiscal year 2013 defense budget proves that it is a “pivot” in name only.

This budget is a prayer that the United States will not have to fight more than one major war at a time. The two-war standard has long been a way to measure America’s global reach and deter potential adversaries.  The world is no less dangerous today than it was twenty years ago—so why is the Obama administration planning for an era of decreased conflict?  Our world was changed on September 11th   because of an act of war for which America was not prepared.  With diffuse and growing threats, the world can ill-afford American complacency.   For example:

  • Great power competition is back.  China and Russia are building next-generation military arsenals at the same time that America is gutting its defense industrial base.  China especially is investing in high-technology programs that threaten America’s power projection capabilities. So far, the administration’s response has been to cut or delay the programs that could fight back, such as the F-22, F-35, and the next-generation ballistic missile submarine.
  • Iran continues its march towards nuclear weapons in blatant violation of its international obligations.  At the same time, it is fostering terrorism throughout the Middle East and menacing America’s allies and partners.
  • Pakistan is on the brink.  Between violent terrorism, government instability, and elements inside the military that support extremist groups, the fragile nation faces real questions about its ability to secure its nuclear arsenal.
  • Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen has repeatedly attempted attacks against the United States.  If al Qaeda or a related group successfully attacks the American homeland, the United States may be drawn into a war of necessity.
  • North Korea remains a danger to our allies in Asia and continues to work with countries, like Iran, to challenge American and allied interests.

In addition, unanticipated threats may await America in the years ahead. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pointed out last year, the American record in predicting where our next war will be has been perfect. “We have never once gotten it right.”

Secondly, Obama’s proposed defense budget hides the true extent of defense cuts. The budget reflects $487 billion in cuts, but another $500 billion looms unless Congress reverses sequestration. The President should either be upfront about the true impact of sequestration or else work with Congress to reverse these cuts.

A host of civilian and military leaders have repeatedly warned that sequestration cuts will be “devastating” to the Pentagon and “very high risk” for America’s national security.  Even Secretary Panetta himself wrote in November that, under sequestration, the United States would have the “smallest ground forces since 1940,” a “fleet of fewer than 230 ships, the smallest level since 1915,” and the “smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force.”

The Executive Branch, however, is passing the buck to Congress.  “My hope,” said Secretary Panetta yesterday, “is that when members understand the sacrifice involved in reducing the defense budget by half a trillion dollars, it will convince Congress to avoid sequestration, a further round of cuts that would inflict severe damage to our national defense for generations.”  Yet the President has threatened to veto any effort to avoid sequestration that does not raise taxes, while remaining silent on the need to rein in the spiraling growth of entitlements, which consume nearly two-thirds of the federal budget.  The Obama administration must assume its share of the responsibility—and obligation—to fully reverse the catastrophic cuts to defense.

Lastly, the proposed budget leaves devastating gaps in manpower and next-generation programs.

  • Ground forces are facing a massive cut, with the Army losing 80,000 active duty soldiers and the Marine Corps losing some 20,000 active-duty personnel.  A larger force has already faced severe strain due to numerous deployments.  A smaller force means that when duty calls, troops will face increased stress, increased danger, and more time away from their families.
  • The Air Force is in the middle of a modernization crisis.  The administration has announced yet another delay in F-35 production at the same time as cuts to six fighter squadrons.  A 2009 RAND study has the United States losing an air war with China because the U.S. simply does not have enough fighters to compete with overwhelming Chinese numbers.  These cuts do not help the situation.
  • The U.S. Navy, which also faces a modernization crisis, will maintain 11 aircraft carrier groups, but the total number of surface ships and submarines will decrease dramatically.  For an administration supposedly focused on the Pacific, a defense budget that decreases shipbuilding and fleet size simply does not make sense.

America’s military and the citizens it serves deserve better.

The Defending Defense Project is a joint effort of the Foreign Policy Initiative, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation to promote a sound understanding of the U.S. defense budget and the resource requirements to sustain America’s preeminent military position.

AEI