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Misperceptions, Part III: Defense Cuts, An Alternative to the Sequester

Posted: January 31, 2012 at 2:26 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

My first post noted that the sums being considered for defense cuts, even in the case of the sequester, are actually quite low, particularly when compared to some of the other historical builddowns (post-Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War). The second noted that the reasons often given for exempting defense from government wide belt-buckling have been largely overdone.

Nonetheless, there are far more effective and strategic methods to cutting defense than a sudden and irrational across-the-board sequester. Sec. of Defense Panetta hinted as much when he stated, “If Congress agrees by vote, we would have the flexibility to apply sequester cuts as the Administration recommends.” Flexibility for smaller, slower, and more sustained cuts would allow for a more strategic approach than the immediate cliff that the sequester mandates.

One alternative proposal out there would provide the same long-term cut on defense, but smooth the impact to accrue savings over time, by allowing Defense to find its own savings while cutting the budget by just 1.1% a year. In fact, if Congress freezes defense spending in FY12, as it has hinted it would, then this percentage drops to 0.75% a year. The two graphics on the right show how this would work:

Back-loading the cuts allows for more strategic choices to be made vis-à-vis procurement, R&D, Tricare reform, civilian and military personnel costs (which the President can exempt from the sequester), etc. For a great interactive on the tough choices involved, and how you would choose to fulfill the cuts mandated, see this NYTimes graphic.

Giving Defense flexibility in choosing which programs to terminate, delay, or reform, provides both predictability and harmony when it comes to strategy and spending. Clearly, there are strong interest groups that will continue to lobby presidential candidates, as well as Congress, into exempting defense cuts altogether. This would be wrong, as all government agencies must share in the burden of austerity measures, but there are certainly more effective alternatives that could replace the sequestration cuts which, as of now, are set to begin in January 2013.

Feel free to comment on any of the posts in this series! I’ll be back soon with a strategic and budgetary analysis of the Defense Strategy Review that the Obama Administration announced this January, as well ass the FY2013 defense budget to be submitted to Congress next month.

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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