Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta discussed the negative implications of proposed cuts to the budgets of the Defense Department, State Department and other areas related to national security during a discussion held at National Defense University on Tuesday.
Both Clinton and Panetta expressed concern that such cuts could hinder America’s ability to provide national security and pursue American interests abroad. Few specifics were given over the hour-long discussion as to how such cuts would put America at risk. Both guests seemed to agree that America’s economic problems required making difficult cuts throughout the budget, but their opposition to relatively small cuts to their respective departments suggests bias and rationalization based on long-held assumptions about the nature of America’s threats and how best to address them.
In addition to the already agreed upon $350 billion in cuts to the Defense Department over the next ten years, Panetta said that the possibility of an additional $500 billion in cuts over the next decade would have “devastating effects on our national defense.” When pushed to identify the most damaging examples these cuts would have on the Defense Department and national security, Panetta gave an abstract response.
“Very simply, it would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and their families. And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today.”
Clinton added that the case has to be made “as to what national security in the 21st century actually is.” She said the strongest military in the world has to be given “the tools to do the jobs we send it out to do.” Clinton argues that cuts to national security budgets “cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America’s interest.”
The proposed cuts in perspective
Assume $850 billion is cut from national security-related budgets over the next decade. That amounts to $85 billion less per year. The Defense Department military expenditures for 2010 alone were $685.1 billion. Using this amount as a base for the next decade, given the cuts are made to Defense alone the government will still spend at least $600 billion per year to ensure the national security of the United States (total is actually much higher when other expenditures are factored in). Are Clinton and Panetta really arguing that $600 billion per year is not enough taxpayer money to pursue American interests and keep America safe? If so, they should at least specifically identify why this amount is insufficient.
America spends more on its military than the next seventeen largest military spenders combined. China, the number two military spender only spent around $114 billion in 2010. Is cutting a measly $85 billion per year given the enormity of America’s overall budgetary problems and huge relative military advantage really going to have “devastating effects” on America’s national security as Secretary Panetta suggests?
There are countless ways to safely save much more than $85 billion per year from national security-related budgets by rethinking America’s commitments, restructuring its forces, investing in only viable programs and pushing department efficiency. During the discussion the main reform idea touched upon was reforming military pensions, something Panetta jokingly ensured the military-heavy audience would not affect any of them but would effectively give future service members less generous retirement benefits. What happened to valuing the “faith of the troops and their families?”