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Opinion

Want to improve US national security? Cut the defense budget.

Reining in irresponsible defense spending will combat the most significant threat to our national security: the debt.

By Lawrence Korb and Laura Conley / October 7, 2010



Washington

Speaking last week at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with journalists, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked that he hoped to avoid “massive cuts” in defense, which “would be dangerous now, given the national security requirements that we have.” Yet cutting the baseline defense budget, which is now even higher than it was at the height of the Reagan buildup, may ironically be one of the best tools we have to meet our national security needs.

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Adm. Mullen’s remark fails to acknowledge a central truth about national security: No country can buy perfect security no matter how much it spends, and any attempt to do so will eventually reach the point of severely diminishing returns.

The United States is now in its thirteenth straight year of uninterrupted growth in the defense budget, an unprecedented rise in spending that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has rightly termed a “gusher.” As the United States winds down its mission in Iraq and begins to plan for the first withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan next summer, it is long past time to reexamine whether the level and distribution of US defense spending actually enhances our national security capabilities.

Misuse of taxpayer dollars

This type of inquiry will quickly reveal a fundamental disconnect between our defense spending and our strategic goals, particularly in the area of major defense acquisition projects. For too long the Defense Department and Congress have continued to direct scarce taxpayer dollars to massively expensive, over-budget, behind-schedule weapons programs that are inadequate to meet the current and future needs of our armed forces. A prime (but not the only) example of such a program is the Marine CorpsExpeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) – a 13.2 billion dollar project.

Proponents of the EFV, an amphibious assault vehicle, argue that it offers better armor and firepower than the Corps’ current model. Military writer Ed Hooper claims it will help the Marine Corps get back to its original combat role – “an amphibious force in readiness.”

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