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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Report: U.S. Could Cut Defense Budget by Half-Trillion and Remain a Dominant Superpower
Report: U.S. Could Cut Defense Budget by Half-Trillion and Remain a Dominant Superpower

An influential national-security think tank has concluded that the nation's status as the world's superpower and the U.S. military's global presence strategy can be maintained, even with reduced budgets. Analysts at the Center for a New American Security estimated that up to $550 billion in budget reductions over the next decade could be made without compromising U.S. military dominance. But cuts beyond that amount could severely undermine military capabilities, the report said.

“We recognize that we are in the midst of a debate about how much and how far to shrink,” retired Army Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, a CNAS senior advisor and co-author of the study, said Oct. 7 at a panel discussion. “The bottom line is, we judge that cuts exceeding about $550 billion total over the next 10 years without making substantial changes to military pay and benefits will put our broadly successful and enduring strategy of global engagement at high risk.”

The report outlines four possible budget scenarios that the Defense Department faces, ranging from a $350 billion in cuts to more than $800 billion in potential reductions if the congressional Super Committee is unable to find $1.2 trillion in savings government wide. “Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity” is one in a series of CNAS reports addressing the impact of budget constraints on national defense.  

The CNAS report outlines two cost-cutting strategies designed to focus the military to meet future challenges.

To find between $350 billion and $400 billion in savings, CNAS recommends reducing procurement of Navy littoral combat ships and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and reinvesting much of the money into existing ships and aircraft. The plan also returns both the Army and Marine Corps to end strength near their pre-9/11 levels by 2015 – about 480,000 soldiers and 175,000 marines.

To find $500 billion in savings the report recommends all those cuts, plus trimming the Navy’s carrier fleet from 11 to 10, while further reducing the Marines’ V-22 Osprey program and F-35 procurement.

That scenario, which CNAS considers the uppermost threshold before U.S. military strategy begins to suffer, relies heavily on naval, air and ground forces to fulfill the military’s global presence goals, but presents risks that are “significant but acceptable,” according to the report.

On the high end, CNAS suggests that with cuts of $800 billion or more through 2022, it is still possible to “maintain a modernized force that can conduct high-intensity warfare against adversaries that directly threaten core U.S. interests, while taking substantially greater risks in all other missions."

A slash that deep could mean the “U.S. may not be able to respond in time to prevent an adversary from seizing territory,” said Travis Sharp, also a fellow at CNAS and co-author of the report.

Gordon Adams, professor of U.S. foreign policy at American University’s School of International Service, believes that cuts to defense spending could reach $1 trillion or more over the next decade. Based on similar scenarios in recent history, Adams said the U.S. military’s strength has and will again outlast efforts to massively gut its budget post-conflicts.

“The defense budget will go down; we are in a build-down,” Adams said. “But we have been down this road three times since the end of the Korean War. Build-downs happen and we have survived them.”

Nora Bensahel, deputy director of studies at CNAS and a co-author of the report, said the Defense Department will need to shift resources based on strategic priorities. “Decreasing resources will require U.S. decision makers to prioritize key geographic regions more effectively,” Bensahel said. “The U.S. military should focus more on the western Pacific and Indian Ocean and broaden engagements there because U.S. political, economic and security interests will increasingly be affected by developments in the Asia-Pacific region.” The report ranks the Middle East and Europe as having less geographic importance.

As the geographic focus shifts, so too should the reliance on a large standing ground force, CNAS recommends. An increased emphasis on procurement and modernization of naval and air forces should take a front seat as demand for ground forces declines in tandem with troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. It is also less risky to reduce ground forces —which could be rebuilt if necessary — than to halt production of sophisticated ships and long-range strike aircraft, Bensahel said.

The report also calls for the elimination of redundancy among the services, for greater reliance on unmanned vehicles and growing investments in research and development. 


Re: Report: U.S. Could Cut Defense Budget by Half-Trillion and Remain a Dominant Superpower

Sounds like a lot, but when the plan is to spend $13 trillion over ten years, reducing it by $550 billion is a drop in the bucket.  Imagine what a different place the United States would be if the budget was cut by half- at which point the US would still outspend every other country in the world by at least 5-1.  What could you do with an extra 5 or 6 trillion dollars in your pocket?
Duglarri at 10/14/2011 1:58 AM

Re: Report: U.S. Could Cut Defense Budget by Half-Trillion and Remain a Dominant Superpower

Given that many of those trillions of dollars will be borrowed from China, true patriots argue for even bigger cuts. We spend more than during the Cold War, and there is no Soviet threat. Our military budget has doubled since 2001. Why? Greed and corruption, especially among our Admirals and Generals.

I was just reading about demands to increase funding for a new program that provides military spouses $6000 to attend college. When will our Generals step up and end the dozens of these extra pay boondoggles, and argue for a two-year pay freeze, which federal civilian employees accepted. That would pay for keeping another 30,000 GIs in the active ranks.
Carlton at 10/16/2011 3:13 PM

Re: Report: U.S. Could Cut Defense Budget by Half-Trillion and Remain a Dominant Superpower

I feel it necessary to address a couple of blatantly incorrect statements that you have stated.

1) Your understanding of the United States debt and the affect of cutting the Defense Budget is incorrect.  There are a couple of great Youtube videos that explain it using pennies as the illustration.  Here is the basics.  The majority of the US budget is made up of mandatory spending.  These are those things that Congress has authorized and is written into law. Examples are Medicare and Social Security.  The remainder of the budget if a very small amout and is called discretionary spending.  Yes the Defense Budget does make up about half of the discretionary spending, but is only a very small portion of the total budget.  The key thing here is that most of the discretionary budget is borrowed money.  I will agree that there is a need to cut spending across the entire government, but cutting only the Defense budget will not solve the Debt problem.  The United States needs to either increase its revenue, or cut some of the mandatory spending programs.  The trade deficit is a key place to start.  This can have the biggest impact on the total budget, with the least effect on the people. 

2) I find it hard to believe that I am having to explain the increase in defense spending over the last ten years, but it seems that it is necessary.  First, lets look at the Military of the Cold War.  This Military was mostly stationary.  The units did not deploy often, with the exception of the Navy.  They did local training, but not much else.  When a military is stationary it does not cost much to maintain it.  Now, lets compare it to the Military of the last 10 years.  This military has been in continuous combat.  It has been deploying and redeploying forces on a cyclic basis.  Moving all of these forces is expensive.  The second cost of conflict is supplies.  Instead of a few training rounds that you fire every year to stay proficient or a few gallons of gas for training,  the military is now expending vast amounts of ammunition and fuel daily.  If you want to go back to the Defense Budget of 2001, then you will need to bring all of the forces back to the static position of 2001.  This will be difficult since the Military is used as an extension of policy.  It is one of the elements of national power, and its use is not likely to decrease in the near future. 

3) The reduction of incentive programs will not keep another GI in the ranks.  The number of soldiers that are allowed in the Active Military is controlled by congress.  Each service is given the number of troops that they are allowed to have.  A part of the budget is then built to pay these troops as well as provide incentives that Congress has deemed appropriate.  Here is the one fact that I find interesting about your thoughts on incentive programs.  Less than 1 percent of US residents serve in the military.  With such a small percentage of the population serving and the sacrifices that they make to serve, why would you not want to provide them incentives to stay.

4) You compare federal civilian employees and their acceptance of a pay freeze to the military.  There are some issues with this comparison.  Generally speaking a civilian employee works 40 hours per week and spends nights and weekends with their family.  If a civilian employee works past 40 hours, then they receive compensation time or overtime pay.  The military members work as required.  There is no compensation and there is no overtime.  If the work week requires 140 hours, then that is what is worked.  If a service member is asked to spend nights and weekends away from family, then that is what they do.  When asking your workforce to accept these conditions why would you ever want to freeze their pay raises.  It is one of the few things that they have to look forward to every year. 

The views expressed in this blog comment are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
Major CJ Phillips, Student, Command and General Staff College, Fort Lee, Virginia Campus at 10/18/2011 4:39 PM

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