Defending Defense: Setting the Record Straight on U.S. Military-Spending Requirements
Setting the Record Straight on U.S. Military Spending Requirements
Thursday, October 14, 2010
House Visitors Center 201
On Thursday, October 14, 2010, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Heritage Foundation hosted an event on Capitol Hill to launch a joint project on military spending, “Defending Defense.” Mackenzie Eaglen from the Heritage Foundation, along with Gary Schmitt and Tom Donnelly from AEI, participated in a panel discussion moderated by FPI’s Director of External Affairs, Rachel Hoff.
In her remarks, Ms. Eaglen emphasized that national defense is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of the federal government. Of the 17 powers enumerated to Congress in Article II, Section 8 of the Constitution, six are defense-related. Indeed, she said, while most Congressional powers are permissive in nature – meaning that further legislation is required to empower the government to act – the federal government is mandated to provide for the country’s defense. Furthermore, only the federal government can fulfill this duty, not the states. Ms. Eaglen argued that the peace and prosperity experienced by the West over the past several decades was bolstered by the foundation of decisive predominance of American power, beginning with military strength. No U.S. President after World War II has withdrawn from the nation’s worldwide leadership role. Instead, our leaders have added to the missions the military must fulfill. Our current national leaders, therefore, must provide sufficient resources to sustain America’s power. Meeting the financial needs of the U.S. military now and for the next several years does not let the Pentagon off the hook for spending taxpayer dollars wisely. Ms. Eaglen outlined a variety of necessary reforms that must take place within the defense budget. The necessary sacrifice is a relatively small one for a country like the United States to make, but it is one that is ultimately taken for granted, and has enormous consequences if it is not made.
Dr. Schmitt’s remarks focused on the existing gap between our nation’s grand strategy and the military resources to carry it out properly. As Dr. Schmitt pointed out, following the end of the Cold War, the Clinton administration reduced both the size of America’s ground forces and monies dedicated to buying new weapons and platforms—the so-called procurement holiday. By the end of that administration, funding on that front was a meager $60 billion: tens of billions short of what both the Joint Chiefs and the Congressional Budget Office believed was necessary to maintain the force. Although the core defense budget has increased by $220 billion over the past decade, that number is deceptively small, due to inflation and the rising costs of military personnel and operations. And because of the previous cuts in the size of the Army, America has had to turn to using its reserve forces at unprecedented levels to help fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bottom line, Dr. Schmitt argued, is that this is not a force flush with men or material. This is no time to be talking about making even more cuts to the military’s budget; if anything, the services need more monies, not less.
Mr. Donnelly established the strategic and political contexts for this rare but important collaborative project between think tanks. While AEI, FPI, and Heritage have a conservative political disposition, the defense budget shortfall is a non-partisan issue. The Independent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) Panel was formed because Congressmen of both parties felt that the 2010 QDR was lacking and wanted a second appraisal of the report’s assumptions. The Obama administration chose the bipartisan principals of the panel, and the commission worked to ensure that their work was non-partisan in nature. Mr. Donnelly urged attendees to view America’s defense spending not in terms of real dollars, but in proportion to the total national expenditure. While the costs of defense have certainly risen, so has the nation’s gross domestic product, while the share of defense spending as part of the overall budget has declined steadily in the post-Cold War era. Currently, including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American defense spending costs less than a nickel of every taxpayer dollar. The average during the Cold War was 50 percent greater. Mr. Donnelly admitted that AEI, FPI, and Heritage agreed to hold this event at this time to counter efforts by liberal members of Congress to try to push defense spending to the top of the list of parts of the budget that need to be cut. Their effort (exemplified by a recent letter urging the National Debt Commission to not overlook defense spending in their budget cut recommendations, he said, was clearly aimed at trying to divide members of the Tea Party from the broader American conservative movement three weeks before the midterm elections. This joint project, however, shows that there is a strong coalition of conservatives committed to fully funding our men and women in uniform.
The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.