Trading an Arms Race for an Economic One
If Congress lets the automatic cuts into the Defense budget carry on as planned, the Pentagon will see its budget slashed by about $700 billion over the next 10 years. That’s a scary thought, given that we are still fighting a war, we have more than 600 overseas military installations, and more than 200,000 U.S. service members are operating in foreign countries.
Will Congress use this opportunity to pare the U.S. military’s foreign obligations down to fit its budget? Will it debate a defense acquisitions reform package and send a firm message that future acquisitions will be guided by military needs, not how many people are employed in members’ states and districts? Will Congress revisit the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, and design a defense budget to face the irregular threats of today, not the conventional adversaries of a generation ago?
Doesn’t look like it.
As the fiscal cliff approaches, a strange, strange chorus from the special interest cassandras can be heard in Washington. A slash in Defense spending will cost jobs, they warn. I hear no debate about the long-term interests of the U.S. in sustaining a military budget that is larger than the next 14 countries combined – only warnings about job cuts.
This kind of nearsighted thinking is exactly why more Americans register approval of Paris Hilton and “U.S. Going Communist” than Congress. An institution worthy of the public’s trust would lead an informed debate about the defense cuts, explain to those adversely effected by the cuts why this is necessary, and look ahead toward the next twenty or thirty years, not the next election.
That was the Congress of Scoop Jackson, Edmund Muskie, and George McGovern. This is the 112th Congress.
Wasting money on Defense expenditures not only undermines efforts to balance the budget, it distorts our national security mission. There is no Soviet menace against which to build up our defenses. We cannot continue to carry on a one-sided arms race with a phantom menace made up in Fox News land.
If we are in a race against a foreign enemy, it is against a Chinese adversary more interested in a battle for economic, not military, supremacy. As such, it is time now to integrate the workforce that has served our defense machine into the civilian economy. Let’s have an infrastructure and education race with China, not an arms race. That would serve our national security.
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” President Dwight Eisenhower told us in 1953. “This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”
I understand that there have been ancillary, seemingly non-defense related benefits to defense expenditures. In 1900 U.S. Army doctor James Carroll discovered that mosquitoes carried yellow fever, leading to its eventual vaccine. The U.S. Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) – a network of networks inside the Pentagon developed in 1969 – is seen by most historians as a precursor to the Internet. Today’s DoD procurement of renewable energy technologies is driving historic advancement in the power grid.
I also understand the potential human toll cuts in personnel could take on the public servants at our defense installations.
Yet the potential for scientific and technological advancement hardly, hardly justify the outrageous sums of money we spend on administrative work at our military installations, nevermind the F-35 program. And I’m convinced that most public servants at our defense installations would gladly, willingly sacrifice if they were given a chance to continue to serve the greater good.
Speaking in at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abeline, Kansas, in 2010, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned that he was turning off the “gusher” of defense spending, targeting administrative work in particular.
“Consider the Department’s spending on operations and maintenance, a broad category that encompasses about $200 billion worth of the day-to-day activities of the military – from flight training to mowing the grass,” Gates said. “Over the last decade, spending in this area – not counting expenses directly related to the wars – has about doubled, with large increases in administrative and infrastructure support.”
Perhaps there’s a good reason that we have doubled spending on these day-to-day activities. Perhaps continuing to write checks for more and more F-35s serves the long-term economic and military strategy of the United States. Perhaps we should continue to cut domestic investments to avoid the fiscal cliff on defense spending.
But this is one debate in Washington that should not center around jobs.
Thomas L. Day is a graduate of the Truman National Security Project’s Veterans Leadership Academy and the founder of PublicServicePledge.com. You can follow the Public Service Pledge on Twitter at @PSpledge.