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One of the most important battles in Washington today is the fate of the U.S. defense budget. The President has asked for huge cuts, over and above reductions already agreed to and on top of the efficiency drive put in place by retired Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Many of the liberal think tanks in Washington DC are proposing even greater cutbacks –as much as $1 trillion. Leon Panetta, newly in his office at the Defense Department, is warning that too large cuts will “badly damage our capabilities for the future.” Secretary Panetta is focusing on the conditions of the Armed Forces. But more is involved.
As James Swanson, a well regarded intelligence and defense expert, makes clear, it really boils down to the U.S. ability to effectively operate in diverse theaters such as the Pacific or Mediterranean. “Take away aircraft carriers or submarines and we will have far less ability to respond.”
But there is more -the proposed reductions are not just about cutting the number of troops on active duty, reducing health care and retirement benefits for soldiers, or canceling new or recent defense programs. “What is at stake,” says Dr. Stephen Bryen, a former senior Defense Department official, “is the global status of the United States. The proposed cuts,” Bryen says, “threaten the entire strategic balance in the world. What is not being said, but needs to be understood, is that the intention of the cuts is not merely to balance the budget. That is the way it is being presented to the public. But people are starting to catch on,” Bryen says, “that the real idea is to dramatically change the strategic role of the United States, to make the U.S. look more like the European countries, with a far reduced ability to influence world events.” Changing the U.S. posture from a superpower to something far less, has profound implications for world peace and security, according to Bryen.
In reviewing the proposed cuts, James Swanson makes it clear that what is missing is the goals and objectives for our military and defense forces. “The Defense Department was supposed to outline to the Congress the strategic goals of our Armed Forces, but until now the Department has not made public its goals and posture. ”
Swanson thinks that one of the impacts of any cuts will be not only to hollow out the Armed Forces, but also to lose key elements of the defense industrial base. “If you stop building aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines, or high performance aircraft, it is difficult if not impossible to recover the skills and know-how which will be lost. The result is that the defense industrial base will irrevocably shrink, leaving us either without the capacity to produce vital defense products, or finding it time consuming and expensive to recreate them in the future.” In addition, Bryen points out that the personnel reductions, program cancellations and loss of manufacturing capability means that more people will be out of work, and this will deeply and negatively affect the American economy.
Making the U.S. look more like Europe, with a reduced military capacity, may sound good to some, but it is not very smart thinking, says Bryen. “In fact the European countries, and also Japan and Korea, depend on U.S. power and live in a kind of defense welfare world. If you take away the American security blanket from these countries, it is not so clear that they can remain stable and prosper in future. What the United States has done since the end of World War II is unprecedented. If we stop doing it, the chance for chaos increases exponentially.”
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