Defense budget proposal prepares US for future challenges

By Zac Bears

MCT
MCT

On Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel outlined sweeping defense cuts as part of the Obama administration’s budget proposal to Congress. The proposal would reduce the size of the army to 1940 pre-World War II levels, retire two entire classes of airplanes and significantly cut the Army National Guard.

The proposed $522 billion defense appropriation is down from the $682 billion spent in 2012, but still larger than the military budgets of China, Russia and the United Kingdom combined.

Prominent conservatives immediately struck back, arguing that the cuts will severely impede the ability of the U.S. military to combat threats. The foxnews.com story on the proposed budget describes the cuts as “drawing criticism that the drastic changes will hurt U.S. security” in the lead paragraph.

Just hours after the announcement, former Vice President Dick Cheney came out against the budget, calling the cuts “absolutely dangerous.” He continued that threats faced from many parts of the world would lead him to maintain or strengthen military capabilities, not cut them.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) feels that Obama and Hagel are attempting to “solve our financial problems on the backs of our military.”

Bellyaching from the right is more a symptom of the “Blame Obama” ideology, and less a statement of facts. While conservative outlets slander the budget as a reduction in capacity, it is simply the budgetary solution to the U.S. foreign policy pivot from the Middle East to the Pacific.

Two concurrent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are responsible for the Army’s growth over the past decade. But, with the rise of China and other Asian nations, future foreign policy and military action will focus on the archipelagic Pacific, where any war would be fought by sea and air, as evidenced by the U.S. WWII campaign.

In The New York Times an unnamed senior Pentagon official said, “You can’t carry a large land-war Defense Department when there is no large land war.”

The cuts accommodate broader fiscal austerity as Congress and the president continue to cut the federal budget, even as unemployment stays high and growth remains low. Although military budget cuts are necessary in the long-term, the continued reduction of the federal budget, regardless of its distribution, is detrimental to short-term economic growth and employment prospects.

Still, Republicans would rather cut Medicare and Social Security than touch the defense budget. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said that the cuts will hurt military readiness and that the military budget is “being sacrificed … on the altar of entitlements.”

The defense budget is the last item to come up to the chopping block over the past five years, as nutrition assistance, unemployment benefits, tax relief for the middle class and other domestic discretionary spending were already cut. The mandatory outlays for Medicare and Social Security and GOP intransigence to proposed Democratic entitlement reforms are the only political forces that have kept Congress from slashing those budgets as well.

Individuals with close ties to the army have qualms about the budget as well. In addition to the reorganization of the army, the proposal also includes cuts to housing allowances for military families and subsidies to on-base grocery stores. A vote for the budget will be framed as a vote against military constituents, a bitter pill for any congressperson to swallow in an election year.

At face value, the budget is remarkably forward facing. Realizing the growing importance of cyber warfare and special operations, it includes increases in funding to drone programs, the planned growth of special forces and maintaining the size and strength of the U.S. Navy and Air Force, including the 11 operational aircraft carriers and their associated battle groups. Hagel plans to retire the A-10 “tank-killer” and the Cold War-era U-2 spy plane, the first rendered obsolete by newer aircraft and the second by the massive network of U.S. spy satellites.

While ending U.S. ability to fight two large-scale wars at the same time, the budget makes the military more nimble and able to respond to a multitude of smaller crises.

Even more budget cuts are unpleasant but politically unavoidable. Hagel and the Obama administration have used the 2015 budget proposal to shape future budget cuts and ensure that they are handled strategically, and not with brute force as they were with sequestration.

This defense budget reduces the absolute size of the Army, but, through this reform, it focuses the bulk of U.S. defense funding on future challenges, both geopolitical and technological. By adding new funding for research and development of cyber warfare and drones, the U.S. attempts to enter an era of indirect conflict that puts fewer American soldiers in danger. There are broader moral implications for drone strikes and cyber attacks that endanger human lives, but those are questions for civilian leadership and the democratic process to solve, not the budgeting process.

In a time of unrest, geopolitical uncertainty and economic turmoil, the demilitarization of the largest political power in the world sends a positive message. The 21st Century will be either the century of human solidarity in the face of unimaginable collective challenges, or the century of global violence, where countries fight for the last drops of oil and fresh water left on Earth.

Hagel’s proposal puts America squarely on the side of human solidarity, and, while humanity often fails to plan for the long-term, at least we have a government that is actually trying.

Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @zac_bears.