Even as the presidential election campaign heats up, foreign and defense policy are conspicuously absent from most of the discussions. In fact, the state of national security has been reduced to a “they said, they said” about who is responsible for creating the imminent fiscal cliff, in general, and the looming threat of sequestration, in particular. Everyone agrees that if sequestration is permitted to go into effect, the results for the nation’s security and the state of the U.S. military will be nothing short of catastrophic. The Pentagon’s ability to support the new defense strategy with its pivot to the Asia-Pacific region is marginal, at best. Throw in another $500 billion in defense cuts and you can kiss the era of American global supremacy goodbye.
Lost in the smoke and noise caused by the mutual recriminations is the reality that it will not take much in the way of additional defense spending to secure America’s place of prominence as a military power and security partner in the 21st century. No one is talking about a return to the $700 billion defense budgets at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Obama Administration’s long-range defense budget proposal is to spend nearly $5 trillion over the next decade. The highest figure, that proposed by Governor Romney, would see defense spending slowly rise to around 4 percent of GDP, or an average of $550 billion for the remainder of this decade. For that expenditure the American people would get a fully-capable Army, a 350 ship Navy, a modernized Air Force, theater and national missile defense and a credible nuclear deterrent that retains all three legs of the Triad.
Compare these figures to what will be required in tax increases or spending cuts to get our entitlement system under control. The required increase in defense spending is practically a rounding error against the more than $70 trillion in unbudgeted obligations confronting the federal government alone. You could practically do it with the sale of the peacetime equivalent of war bonds.
In a recent speech to a Washington, DC audience, the Australian foreign minister observed that “America could be one budget deal away, in the context of economic recovery, one budget deal away from banishing the notion of American declinism. Think about that, one budget deal, an exercise of statesmanship up the road, in the context of an economic bounce-back and all of a sudden, with energy independence crystallizing, with technological innovation, resurgence of American manufacturing, people who spoke about American decline could be revising their thesis.”(1) Sounds like the Republican Party platform to me.
Clearly there is an opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to strike a deal that would guarantee continued U.S. strategic preeminence well into the 21st century. In the short-term, after the elections but before 2012, you can forget about a grand bargain, this is too hard. But a limited deal to protect defense spending would be possible. The value of such a deal to protect national security is almost incalculable. This is a budget deal that could benefit everyone: Americans, our allies, industry, labor, veterans and current service personnel.
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(1) Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Honorable Bob Carr, “Australia, the US and the rise of the Asia Pacific,” CSIS Banyan Tree Leadership Forum, Washington D.C., USA, April 25, 2012
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