Pentagon cuts don't cut it. Want to really save money? Get a new security strategy.
Billions in Pentagon cuts touted by Gates and Obama recently don’t represent real decreases to defense spending. With troops in more than 150 of the world's 195 countries, the US needs to abandon its cold-war era deployment strategy. It's time for our wealthy allies to pull their weight.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently announced that the Department of Defense (DoD) had found “at least $100 billion in savings” and that he was “curtailing or canceling troubled or excess programs that would have cost more than $300 billion if seen through to completion.” President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, echoed Gates’ proposal to cut defense spending. These "cuts," however, should not be confused with an actual, immediate reduction in current defense spending.Skip to next paragraph
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What these cuts really represent is the projected savings that would be gained over the next five years by not growing the existing budget. This plan is really just a commitment not to spend more money in the future; it’s not a plan to actually spend less money this year than last year, or even to keep spending at the same level. In fact, Mr.Gates was clear on that point. And to be sure, he should be commended for exercising some fiscal restraint (something DoD isn’t usually known for) – particularly during continued uncertainty about economic recovery. But as defense spending continues to amass nearly half of federal discretionary spending, his proposal is hardly cause for celebration.
'Efficiency savings' vs. real cuts
To begin, a little perspective is in order.
In 2012, the DoD’s base budget for the fiscal year (FY) will be $553 billion (excluding roughly $150 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan). This is $13 billion less than the department originally projected, but still represents close to 3 percent real growth from last year's budget. The Gates plan aims at further reduction in FY 2013 and FY 2014 to finally arrive at zero real growth in FY 2015 and FY 2016.
If a hypothetical zero growth DoD budget averages $550 billion a year, then the average savings per year is $20 billion. This is a lot of money, but still less than 4 percent of the total military budget. A step in the right direction? Yes, but hardly a windfall – and not a real reduction, but simply not growing the budget to not spend $20 billion on some things, to be able to spend $20 billion on something else.