Informal Institute for National Security Thinkers and Practitioners - News from the Associate Director, Security Studies Program
Monday, January 21, 2013
THE FORCE: How much military is enough?
Two points. Our nation asks its military to do more than the other militaries combined. Second, at least some of the defense spending is directed by Congress and not requested by the Defense Department. But it all comes down to National Security Strategy – what does our nation want its military to do and what does our nation want our military to be ready to do in the future, what are the priorities (current and long term) and what risks is our nation willing to accept? Answer those questions and then we can have a discussion about the appropriate size of the military and military spending (which of course have to be also based on a realistic understanding of and balance with the realities of our fiscal constraints). There is hard work ahead for our national security decision making apparatus because there are no easy answers.
Sixty-two legislators sit on the House Armed Services Committee, the largest committee in Congress. Since January, 2011, when Republicans took control of the House, the committee has been chaired by Howard P. McKeon, who goes by Buck. He has never served in the military, but this month he begins his third decade representing California’s Twenty-fifth Congressional District, the home of a naval weapons station, an Army fort, an Air Force base, and, for the Marines, a place to train for mountain warfare. McKeon believes that it’s his job to protect the Pentagon from budget cuts. On New Year’s Day, after a thirteenth-hour deal was sealed with spit in the Senate, McKeon issued a press statement lamenting that the compromise had failed to “shield a wartime military from further reductions.”
The debate about taxes is over, which is one of the few good things that can be said for it. The debate about spending, which has already proved narrow and grubby, is pending.
The United States spends more on defense than all the other nations of the world combined. Between 1998 and 2011, military spending doubled, reaching more than seven hundred billion dollars a year—more, in adjusted dollars, than at any time since the Allies were fighting the Axis. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which raised the debt ceiling and created both the fiscal cliff and a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was supposed to find a way to steer clear of it, required four hundred and eighty-seven billion dollars in cuts to military spending, spread over the next ten years. The cliff-fall mandates an additional defense-budget reduction of fifty-five billion dollars annually. None of these cuts have gone into effect. McKeon has been maneuvering to hold the line.
In the fall of 2011, McKeon convened a series of hearings on “The Future of National Defense and the United States Military Ten Years After 9/11.” The first hearing was held on September 8th, the same day as, and down the hall from, the first meeting of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is known as the Supercommittee. It was no one’s finest hour. By the time McKeon gavelled his meeting to order, just after ten in the morning, only seventeen members of the House Armed Services Committee (five Democrats and twelve Republicans) had shown up to hear the three former heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who had been called to testify. Congressional attendance lies, ordinarily, somewhere between spotty and lousy. In committees, roll is generally called only if there’s a vote, and, despite pressure for reform, attendance isn’t even recorded except on “gavel sheets,” compiled by staffers, which are said to be unreliable. In short, it’s easy for lawmakers to skip meetings in which there’s little to be decided. In any case, the point of the Armed Services Committee hearings wasn’t really to debate the future of the American military; it was to give the Department of Defense the chance to argue against the automatic, across-the-board cuts that were scheduled to go into effect this month if the Supercommittee failed to reach a compromise.