Ruminations March 2, 2014
Downsizing the military
Last week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (he of the disastrous Senate confirmation hearings where he seemed woefully inadequate for the job) announced the Defense Department’s budget for 2015 and beyond. Hagel is part of Team Obama and this budget is Obama’s, although the grunt work may have been carried out by Hagel. To say that it is controversial is an understatement, and what finally emerges once Congress has had its say is anyone’s guess.
To begin with, manpower will be scaled back to levels not seen since before World War II – some 450,000 troops. We also know that before World War II, we were inadequately prepared but, given the technology of today’s modern armed forces, we can’t compare the capabilities. In addition, during World War II, at its maximum, some 12 million U.S. Forces (together with our allies) faced 17 million Germans and 7 million Japanese, not to mention 29 million Russians. But, should hostilities break out with China, we’d be facing 2.4 million troops.
Hagel’s budget, while cutting back on some technology such as the A10 attack plane, protects money for Special Operations forces, drones and cyberwarfare.
But what has gone into the thinking that produced this downsizing? Money, primarily. To begin with, as The Washington Post points out, really three budgets. There is the compromise budget cobbled together by Representative Paul Ryan (R, WI) and Senator Patty Murray (D, WA) that calls for $496 billion for core defense spending. A second budget is Obama’s Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative which adds another $26 billion to the defense budget. And then there’s the sequestration budget because, as Hagel says, “sequestration-level cuts remain the law. . . for fiscal year 2016 and beyond.”
A smaller U.S. force would be able to fight a single conventional war but would not be large enough for long-term occupation/stabilization operations as in Iraq or Afghanistan. A smaller army would necessarily have a higher casualty rate and take longer to win. In addition, a smaller military could invite adventurism by opponents.
Former Secretary of State George Shultz has criticized the plan stating that strategy not budget constraints must dictate troop size. Former Vice President and Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said to Fox News, “It’s absolutely dangerous. The fact of the matter is having a huge impact on the ability of future presidents to deal with future crises that are bound to arise.”
But wait a minute. Is this really the same policy of former President George W. Bush? While campaigning for president in 2000, Bush said that he would direct his Secretary of Defense to begin “an immediate, comprehensive review of our military – the structure of its forces, the state of its strategy, the priorities of its procurement.” That was before the 9/11 attacks which changed everything.
Has everything changed in 2014? Maybe so. Obama has, so we are told, begun to pivot away from the Mid East and Europe and toward Asia and the Pacific. Significantly, the new military budget will not cut spending for the Navy’s carrier groups. Robert Kaplan, chosen by Foreign Policy magazine as one of the world's "Top 100 Global Thinkers," had this to say: “China's naval, air, cyber and ballistic missile buildup over the past two decades has not yet challenged U.S. military supremacy in the region, but it has encroached significantly on the previously unipolar environment.” Furthermore, Japan, a traditional rival of China, has begun questioning its pacifist constitution – especially in light of China’s aggressive action in the South Pacific. A stronger Japan would reduce the need for the U.S. to maintain it role as policeman of the South Pacific – something that has not escaped the Pentagon.
Also in line with that kind of thinking, last week Hagel told NATO allies that they need to bear more of the burden of supporting NATO. Hagel is right on that and we wish him good luck.
There is no doubt that to be a strong military nation a nation must also be financially strong. Given the size of the U.S. debt, we are in a precarious situation. One could challenge the Obama spending priorities, but reducing spending where possible is a good thing – provided that the sacrifice can be justified.
Quote without comment
Vladimir Yevseyev, director of the Russian Center for Public and Policy, speaking in Pravda last week: "The [U.S.] infrastructure, especially energy, is vulnerable to cyber-attacks. The U.S. has means of electronic intelligence and electronic warfare systems, allowing implementation of not only defense but also cyber-attacks. The U.S. has carried out such operations to introduce viruses against Iran through flash media. The Pentagon will have to use special services here….The U.S. military industrial complex will not lose much due to budget cuts, because export is still significant. Building a drone park is the priority that the U.S. clearly sees. Maintaining the number of troops is impossible because of the austerity measures,"