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Misperceptions, Part I: The Truth About Defense Cuts, The Sequester

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Posted: January 30, 2012 at 1:50 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

There is a common misperception often drummed up by Rep. McKeon (R-CA, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee) and his Defense Drumbeat Blog, among others: that the Pentagon would be plagued by defense spending cuts, either because of a rising China, a decimated arsenal, a need to modernize, or a host of other stated internal deficiencies and external threats.

Secretary of Defense Panetta, one of Panetta’s deputies, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have all repeated these warnings by stating that the $500 billion in sequester cuts that would come from the Pentagon’s budget would lead to a “hollow force,” result in “self-castration,” and could “destroy” the Department of Defense. As a result, Rep. McKeon has pledged to pass legislation exempting cuts for Defense.

Secretary of Defense Panetta has rightfully argued for a more strategic way of implementing cuts than the across-the-board automated sequester cuts (programs are all cut by the same percentage, regardless of strategic value; see the final post in this series for at least one better alternative to sequester-styled budgetary cuts).

But the rest of the rhetoric is hogwash. In fact, $500 billion in cuts will pose little to no threat to Defense’s capabilities. Even if the sequester was fully implemented over the next decade, which is unlikely given a long history of Congressional obstinacy in the face of defense cuts, as well as new round of budget negotiations to take place in early 2013, the defense budget in 2021 would be just 8% less than 2011.

about 30 percent, each within 10 years. The most recent began under former Secretary Cheney and Chairman Powell in the 1990s. From 1985 to 1998 defense spending fell more than 35%, and the subsequent leaner force still succeeded rapidly in both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

As the graphic below shows, after excluding war funding decreases (the OCO account, which will be eliminated when operations funding for Iraq and Afghanistan has ceased), one finds that the non-war military spending will actually grow by about 10% from today. So much for such debilitating spending cuts!

See my next post for a discussion of why a rising China, a decimated arsenal, and a need to modernize our forces are overstated concerns, and the final part in the series for an improved more strategic alternative to sequester cuts for defense.

Written by Klaas Hinderdael

Klaas Hinderdael is a second year MA candidate in American Foreign Policy. He blogged this summer at The Will and the Wallet, has written for the BC Journal of International Affairs, and after SAIS will be working at Kroll.

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