A recent study by the Sustainable Defense Task Force (which includes prominent intellectuals from the Cato Institute, Center for American Progress and New America Foundation) proposes what it calls a sustainable defense posture that will save around one trillion dollars over the next decade. It proposes sweeping cuts to all parts of the military establishment. If these reductions were implemented, the resulting military would be older, less capable, very expensive to maintain and unable to sustain U.S. security objectives.
The last time there was a major reduction in military forces was in the early 1990s at the end of the Cold War. Then the military was reduced by nearly 40 percent. Since that time, four administrations, Democrat and Republican, have found this posture the one they required and used. In the 1990s, even before September 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the utilization rate for the new force posture increased fourfold compared with what it was during the Cold War. The use rate has gone through the roof. This trend will, if anything, increase, given the Obama Administration’s new focus on building partnership capacity, Africa and assisting failing states. This is a military posture that has served us well for more than twenty years.
Earlier this year, the Obama Administration published its Congressionally-mandated assessment of the state of the U.S. force posture and the expected roles and missions for military forces. This study, the Quadrennial Defense Review, validated the need for the existing force posture, including modernization programs such as the F-35 fighter, the Virginia Class SSN, new surface combatants, new aircraft carriers, missile defenses, the V-22 Osprey and the new Air Force refueling tanker, among other systems. This force posture is vital to the administration’s ability to implement its new national security strategy.
The “sustainable-defense” report proposes cutting remaining nuclear forces by a third and canceling plans to modernize the nuclear weapons infrastructure and refurbish existing weapons. At best this is premature given that the new START Treaty has not even been ratified. At worst, such a unilateral move could undermine the administration’s efforts to get to Global Zero by replacing a phased, negotiated process with unilateral actions. The proposed reductions might even produce the opposite effect as U.S. allies, fearing losing the U.S. extended deterrent, pursue their own nuclear programs. A bipartisan panel chaired by two former secretaries of defense stated that reductions in existing nuclear forces could only be accomplished safely if modernization of the nuclear infrastructure and maintenance of remaining weapons was a priority. The report is wrong.
The recommendations on missile defense reductions are equally ill-conceived. The bulk of the funding for missile defenses goes to systems that are proven such as the Aegis BMDS with the Standard Missile, THAAD and Patriot. These systems are key to the Obama Administration’s plan for a phased adaptive defense that will, among other things, reduce the need for nuclear weapons. The report is wrong again.
On conventional force modernization, the study proposes sweeping cuts across all the Services. The proposal to reduce the size of the Army and Marine Corps flies in the face of recent experience which suggests the need for more “boots on the ground” to address the range of security threats from hostile regimes and terrorist groups to dangers at home. Other nations are producing and selling advanced fighters and high performance air defense systems; the failure to pursue the F-35 program would risk the advantage in airpower that the U.S. has maintained for more than sixty years and endanger the lives of our pilots. With respect to naval platforms, the danger to the sea lanes and U.S. access to critical waters such as the Persian Gulf and Western Pacific is intensifying. Iran is building a force to stop the flow of oil if it chooses and China is creating ballistic missiles designed to attack our aircraft carriers. We require more nuclear submarines, particularly those capable of firing cruise missiles as well as the next generation aircraft carriers. So on reducing the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the report is wrong, wrong, wrong and wrong.
The proposed sustainable defense program is, in reality, a stealthy attempt to implement a radical change in U.S. foreign and defense policies under the guise of promoting fiscal stability. Reduce the size and capability of the U.S. military as proposed and it will be unable to support U.S. foreign policy, meet our commitments to allies, defeat global terrorism or help other nations build their own security forces. The proposed force posture virtually guarantees America’s decline in the world.
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