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The US should cut military spending in half

Defense Secretary Gates's military budget cuts are too conservative.

By Benjamin H. Friedman / April 27, 2009


Hawks depicted the cuts that Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently proposed for the Pentagon's weapons programs as a savage assault on the military industrial complex. They insisted that Secretary Gates would leave us prostrate before future rivals.

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Counterinsurgency enthusiasts, meanwhile cheered Mr. Gates's willingness to swap high-tech platforms for capabilities suited to the unconventional conflicts we are fighting.

The truth is that the Gates proposal is both too cautious and inadequate. After all, Gates isn't cutting non-war-related military spending; he's raising it slightly, to a whopping $534 billion.

If he has his druthers, the next military budget will look much like this one: It will still serve excessive objectives. We will still defend allies that can defend themselves, fight in other people's civil wars in a vain effort to "fix" their states, and burn tax dollars to serve the hubristic notion that US military hegemony is what keeps the world safe.

To really keep us safe, we should slash defense spending. Americans should prepare for fewer wars, not different ones. Far from providing our defense, our military posture endangers us. It drags us into others' conflicts, provokes animosity, and wastes resources. We need a defense budget worthy of the name. We need military restraint. And that would allow us to cut defense spending roughly in half.

Two points demonstrate how unambitious the Gates proposal is.

First, he would just replace most canceled programs. Gates suggested ending production of the Air Force's premier fighter, the F-22. But he wants to accelerate the Joint Strike Fighter program and to buy more F-18s. He would delay the Navy's procurement of cruisers and its next carrier, but only slightly. He would end the Navy's DDG-1000 destroyer program, but buy more of the Navy's older Arleigh Burke class destroyer, and keep buying the Navy's littoral combat ship.

He proposes breaking up the Army's modernization program, the Future Combat Systems, and canceling some of the vehicles – but they will be replaced with others. All told, spending on a national missile defense program would be cut by only about 15 percent.

Second, the military's size will barely budge under this plan. Yes, the Army would grow to only 45 brigade combat teams rather than 48, as was planned. But the people who were to fill out the 48 would be stuffed into 45 – the units will have higher readiness. The Navy is likely to shrink to 10 carrier battle groups instead of 11, but the decline will take decades. The Air Force will shrink only slightly. Gates wants to halt personnel reductions in the Air Force and Navy and continue to expand the Army and Marines by 90,000 servicemen.