Cuts to a Huge Defense Budget Are Not a Threat to National Security and Should Be Made

Credit: Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air ForceCredit: Master Sgt. Ken Hammond, U.S. Air ForceObama has spoken out against impending cuts to the defense budget, saying that our national defense would be put at risk if the upcoming sequester is not avoided. The same sentiment has also been expressed by outgoing defense secretary Leon Panetta, who said that defense cuts are the greatest risk to our national security.

As Reason columnist and Mercatus Center analyst Veronique de Rugy has pointed out, the planned cuts to the defense budget would not put national security at risk.  

It is always worth putting our defense budget in perspective when it comes to defense cuts.

The Washington Post has a good piece on our defense budget, and two graphs featured in the article are especially worth pointing out in the context of sequestration.

First, our military budget is vast and dwarfs the military budgets of larger and more populous countries. A graph from the Pete G. Peterson Foundation shows that in 2011 the U.S. military budget was larger than the military budgets of the next thirteen largest military budgets combined.

It is important to note that much of what the defense budget is spent on could be cut if the U.S. changed its foreign policy. As another graph featured in The Washington Post article shows, engaging in war happens to be expensive. 

What is especially depressing is that the contemporary debates on defense spending exaggerate how deep the proposed cuts would be, as de Rugby explains:

First, independently of the debt deal, after years of fast growth the Pentagon’s budget should be on the table for review and potential cuts like everything else (even if it is not the main driver of our future debt). Second, these spending reductions won’t be anywhere as deep as many claim they will. The CBO projections (see Table 1.3 here, or Table 1.5 in the new CBO projections) about the impact of sequestration show that in the worst-case scenario (if all the cuts are applied to the baseline in the law), there will be initial reductions between FY 2012 and FY 2013, but that defense spending will continue to grow in nominal terms for all years after. After sequestration, the FY 2013 defense budget will be comparable to its FY 2006 level (in real terms). Adjusted for inflation, over the next ten years, the spending is projected to remain relatively constant.  

It is absurd to think that the U.S. would not be able to effectively wage war or defend itself if comparatively modest cuts are made to the defense budget. What is perhaps even more absurd is the belief that such cuts would somehow put national security at risk. Our national security is put at risk when the military is rashly and needlessly used abroad, not when modest cuts to the defense budget are proposed amid a poorly performing economy.  

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  • John||

    You just think they won't be a threat. What you are not counting on is the vindictive nature of the defense bureaucracy. After they are done making the cuts, you better believe they will be a threat. How dare you try to cut their budget.

  • Drake||

    ^ YES ^

    They won't reform procurement or trim fat. They will saw through the muscle and bone. High tech toys will still be bought from friendly contractors.

    They will save by cutting back on practice rifle ammo, spare parts for tanks and Humvees, and everything else to do with training.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Cut them all, and let God sort them out.

  • Almanian!||

    No, fuck you, cut spending!

    Oh, right...

  • Hugh Akston||

    Feeney, I just want to thank you for writing the title of this post as a statement rather than a rhetorical question.

    It's a shame that you picked this topic to do it with however. Because we all know that cutting one dollar from the war defense peace budget will result in all of us speaking Sharia within six months.

  • BakedPenguin||

    ...cutting one dollar from the war defense peace budget will result in all of us speaking Sharia within six months.

    The Mooslims will make all our porn stars wear burkas!

  • RBS||

    "forbidden"

  • BakedPenguin||

    Well, that error message actually kind of fits the topic. Anyway, hopefully this link will work.

  • RBS||

    Much better.

  • GILMORE||

    DERKA DERKA FALAFAL JIHAD

  • Doctor Whom||

    But ... but ... what if the next fourteen biggest military spenders gang up on us?

  • Brett L||

    You want us to be like your other home, Feeney? Barely able to organize a parade for the Queen's birthday? (I kid, I kid. There's plenty to cut.)

  • Sudden||

    The ceremony for Queen Michelle's birthday will make the jubilee look like Mayberry Police Fundraiser Ball.

  • ||

    Gentlemen you can't fight in here, this is the War Room!

  • T o n y||

    The US has to be first in something, and it might as well be in size of war machine. It's certainly not going to be healthcare or education metrics. Healthcare and education are for pussies.

  • John||

    That is right because getting ahead in education metrics would require holding some teacher somewhere accountable. And we can't have that.

    And we could have the number one infant mortality rate in the world, if we would just declare every premi dead on arrival. Fuck them, they probably would have turned into breeders anyway, right Tony?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Actually, John, the correct response is that defense is a legitimate function of government; whereas education and healthcare aren't.

  • ||

    Thank you HM.

  • John||

    Fair enough.

  • wareagle||

    you beat me to the point, HM -

  • T o n y||

    Begging the question much?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Ignoratio elenchi much?

  • ||

    How is that begging the question?

    Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution

    To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

    To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

    To provide and maintain a Navy;

    To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

    Please provide the portions of the Constitution that support government provided healthcare and education, as I can't find it.

  • T o n y||

    Generally getting ahead on something simply requires spending more money on it. Fat chance of that happening to anything but defense with the GOP budget nanny hypocrites hanging around.

    In healthcare, of course, cost control is one of the main problems to solve. We can start by getting rid of the marketplace middlemen and go from there.

  • Jordan||

    We already spend far more per pupil than every other country.

  • Doctor Whom||

    As random Internet arguers constantly tell me, America's schools are horribly underfunded. This is an article of faith, and as is usually the case with articles of faith, if reality disagrees, then reality is wrong.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I like when T o n y appears because not because I think he's real, but whomever is the twisted mind behind the sockpuppet plays the role of a Socratic interlocutor so well in which the fallacies of statist thought can be refuted through rational arguments for libertarianism.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    *whoever

  • T o n y||

    You sometimes give it a good shot, at least.

  • Doctor Whom||

    If only the US spent as much per pupil as other OECD countries. If only we followed liberal philosophies on education. Oh, wait ....

  • wareagle||

    tony,
    find a copy of the Constitution. Please point to where it says education and health care are federal functions. Hint: you won't find it because it's not there. Education is largely a state service, and health care used to be market-based.

    As to defense, re-read the article, particularly the part where both Obama and Panetta are against cuts.

  • ||

    But the Constitution was written by old, dead, slave owning, white guys. And the words are hard to understand and stuff.

    /Tony

  • T o n y||

    I guess that makes it all better? We're dumb and sick, but the constitooshun says that's how we have to be!

  • ||

    Herpa derpa herpity derp.

    Typical dipshit prog.

    Libertarians are against the government paying for education and healthcare, therefore libertarians are against education and healthcare.

    God, you are a fucking idiot!

  • Calidissident||

    We all know there was no education in this country before the Department of Education was founded in 1980

  • T o n y||

    You're against it being universal. That's undeniable.

  • ||

    Fuck you, cut spending.

  • Almanian!||

    No, fuck YOU, cut spending

  • Ted S.||

    Can't the two of you get a room together and fuck each other?

  • Pro Libertate||

    I'd prefer they cut spending together. Like in some sort of underground elite squad that forcibly cuts spending.

  • ||

    That exclamation point has made you mighty feisty hasn't it?

  • albo||

    C'mon. Defense contractors have co-opted congressman of both parties. Major cuts aren't happening.

    Hell, we're still building the useless littoral combat ships and running the even more useless Osprey--because they provide jobs in congressional districts. And the contractors spread out the work to as many states as possible.

  • John||

    I will eat my hat if sequestration actually happens. They will make a deal. They will never actually face the horror of cutting spending.

  • Almanian!||

    yup

    *"Sad But True" plays in the background*

  • R C Dean||

    Funny, I'm getting "Send in the Clowns".

  • SugarFree||

    I'm getting "Baby Elephant Walk," but then I hear that a lot.

  • John||

    That makes me think of Hatari, which makes me think of the ever lovely Elsa Martinelli.

  • Sudden||

    I think of Dancing Homer.

  • albo||

    And if they do agree to cut a little spending just for show, it will be "cutting spending" in the Washington way, not the way normal people think it is.

    "Look, we decreased the rate of increase over baseline! These are massive cuts!"

  • wareagle||

    they'll toss out some large-sounding number like 1.5 trillion over ten years, hoping no one does the math. Because if people do that, they'll wonder how the hell 150 billion in teh face of a near 4-trillion dollar budget is anything resembling a cut.

  • John||

    This whole debt reduction stuff is nearly done.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/.....print.html

    Can't you tea bagging wingnuts move on?

  • albo||

    *blinks at article*

    Holy crap, that guy has balls. It's like because he says something, it immediately becomes truth and reality.

  • John||

    I don't think anyone can be that dishonest. I am starting to think he is completely delusional.

  • Libertarians4Freedom||

    I'm significantly more hawkish than most of the commenters here, and even I think it's absurd to claim that we don't have any fat to cut in the defense budget. I've dealt with military procurement (from the civilian side), and it's a nightmare of waste and overpayment.

    I consider myself a staunch conservative, but why my fellow conservatives check their distrust of government competency at the door when it comes to the Pentagon is a mystery.

  • R C Dean||

    If there's one thing we should have learned, going after "waste, fraud, and abuse", while laudable, doesn't twitch the needle on spending.

    First, we need to define the military's real purpose and mission. Then, we can figure out what they need to do it.

  • Libertarians4Freedom||

    I agree completely. We probably diverge where I believe it should be one of the primary missions of our military to wage war on as much of the hostile regimes in the Middle East as possible given realistic logistical constraints, but even then, it should be a clearly defined mission, with a budget, recruitment, and procurement system designed to meet the needs of that overarching mission. We don't have anything even close to resembling that now.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I believe it should be one of the primary missions of our military to wage war on as much of the hostile regimes in the Middle East as possible given realistic logistical constraints,

    What for? Do any of them have a blue water navy? Do any of them have ICBMs?

  • Sudden||

    Admittedly, in the modern world a rogue regime that is hellbent on bringing DA NEWCULA PAIN! down on America can do it with a dirty bomb given to a non-state actor of like mind and detonated in a densely populated American city. The plausible deniability would make it virtually impossible for the US to then credibly claim which govt was responsible.

    That said, such an aggrieved foreign govt is probably more likely to emerge from a world in which the US is constantly meddling and fucking up than one where the US stays out of the world's affairs for purposes other than commerce.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Absolutely. Destabilizing all these shitholes just creates a an environment that benefits 4th gen warfare, of which we are woefully unprepared to fight.

  • R C Dean||

    The plausible deniability would make it virtually impossible for the US to then credibly claim which govt was responsible.

    I wonder. I was under the impression that the big brains could identify the source of uranium and plutonium by its radioactive signature or somesuch.

    Or we could just issue the Armageddon ultimatum: If anyone poops a nuke on the US, the following list of countries [insert rogue nuclear powers here] will all be nuked in return. You want off the list? Close your reactors.

  • Sudden||

    Or we could just issue the Armageddon ultimatum: If anyone poops a nuke on the US, the following list of countries [insert rogue nuclear powers here] will all be nuked in return.

    BiBi Netanyahu would probably order an immediate Massad hit on Nebraska (or some other midwestern area of the US known for its lack of JOOZ).

  • GILMORE||

    ...I believe it should be one of the primary missions of our military to wage war on as much of the hostile regimes in the Middle East as possible given realistic logistical constraints

    Given that we've so far carried out this noble 'primary mission' in Iraq....and Iran is not actually even part of 'the middle east'...Ghaddafi is dead.... and Assad is on his way out... who exactly did you have in mind regarding 'current "hostile regimes"' in the middle east?

    And by 'hostile', do you actually mean to the U.S.A.... or just to Israel? because, like, we all know how important they are to our national security

  • ||

    First, we need to define the military's real purpose and mission.

    This.

    Define the scope. Fund to that level.

    I'm fairly certain the military budget can easily be trimmed by $600B over ten years. But doing it as a peanut butter spread will devastate ongoing programs and end up squandering the billions already spent on programs that will now not come to fruition.

    Sequester is not the answer.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    BE ADVISED EVERYBODY: Feeney and de Rugy are foreigners who probably want America defenseless so they can catch us with our breeches down and take over.

  • Pro Libertate||

    "No, fuck you, cut spending."

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    They probably don't know what that means because they probably don't even speak English.

  • $park¥||

    We don't speak English, we speak American. Get it right, boy!

  • Pro Libertate||

    This is problem wrong, but. . .Non, te pedicabo, incide sumptibus.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Probably wrong. Crap.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Are you a foreigner?

  • Pro Libertate||

    Nein. Well, not in the U.S., anyway.

  • Tim||

    Even our fictional characters are way cooler. Iron Man totally kicks Nicholas Nickleby's ass.

  • Brett L||

    Please. De Rugy is French, so no problem. And Feeney sounds, and everyone knows we're 1-0-1 against the Brits on the North American continent when they were the world's largest military spender.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Yeah, back when we were allowed to own weapons and had governments willing to break the bank for shock and awe.

  • Pro Libertate||

    That wasn't a tie, bitch.

  • Brett L||

    We did get Toledo out of the deal and have to keep Detroit. Although I guess you could argue that burning the White House and forcing the Federal Government to flee was a victory for the American people.

  • Pro Libertate||

    They stopped impressing our sailors, and they didn't get any of our territory back. And we got a completely American dentistry. We won.

  • GILMORE||

    We also stole one of their drinking songs, and made an anthemy thing with it.

    Fuck you, limeys!

  • Sudden||

    'Murica don't do ties. It's why soccer won't fully catch on here until MLS realizes that it needs to go to a golden goal or PKs after each draw.

  • Brett L||

    Uh, the 49ers and Rams on line 2 for you.

  • Sudden||

    The rarity of it American football makes it an interesting trivia item on the season. The ubiquity of it in world football makes it a roadblock to 'Murican interest.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I think they should've kept the tie in college football. It was a great way to identify loser coaches. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Pat Dye.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Well, Korea was a tie.

  • ||

    Wasn't the objective to stop the Norks and ChiComs from taking over the South? Looks like we won in that sense.

  • Pro Libertate||

    If we'd done the same in Vietnam, I'm sure people would be happier with that war.

  • Drake||

    We did it in '70 - '71. Then we gave it away in Paris, broke all our commitments to South Vietnam and didn't buy them the time South Korea got.

  • Sudden||

    Is it not odd how even if you have reservations about the nature of previous wars, you can look fondly, almost nostalgically back on them and think: "Damn, I miss it when our wars were about stopping something from getting fucked up instead of trying to turn something fucked up into a Jeffersonian democracy and instead getting a fucking money pit."

  • Sudden||

    Please. De Rugy is French, so no problem.

    Exactly. She wants the white flag to fly over the Pentagon. And as much as Obama is against that, he'd likely prefer it to the black and yellow flag I'd like to see fly over it instead.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The Pirates?

    You, sir, are a scoundrel.

  • Sudden||

    Not what I was thinking, but I'll confess to being a scoundrel, scullywag, and sundry other pirate terms.

    But at least I have the good fortune of not being a Cubs fan.

  • Tim||

    Personally, does anybody here really give a fuck if the Chinese want to conquer Taiwan or Vietnam or the Phillipnes? Not me.

  • albo||

    You don't have a problem with the powerful countries taking over the weaker ones by force? Do you think that your country isn't going to be affected at all by something like that?

  • ||

    No. I don't. They want to be safe, they can spend the money to defend themselves. I'm sick of them getting protection on my dime.

    Yes, it may affect us for a short time, while the market adjusts to compensate.

  • Sudden||

    Y'know who else thought taking over a few additional countries, for the lebensraum, was no biggie?

  • Tim||

    The Phillipines threw us out years ago, after we fought a war to save them from the Japanese. Clearly they felt they didn't need a US presence. Vietnam- nothing needs to be said there. Taiwan is one of the richest countries in the world, why do we pay for their defense?

  • Pro Libertate||

    For quite some time, it was conventional wisdom that China couldn't conquer Taiwan--even without our intervention. It could nuke it, of course, but assuming China doesn't just want to destroy the island, that's not an option.

  • crashland||

    It's up to the Philippinos and Vietnamese to fight to keep their country if that's what they want to do. We thankfully have both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans as our moat.

    Why are we still on the damn DMZ on the Korean peninsula after more than 50 years? If the South Koreans can't fend off the Norks they don't deserve to win.

    Let the world burn. Anybody who wants to be free should be welcome to come on in and join us.

  • wareagle||

    yes, so folks do give a fuck because this sort of thing has a habit of continuing beyond just one or two countries.

  • Tim||

    I think we've seen the end of WWII era blitzkriegs. Is it our duty to blast the Chinese out of Nepal? I ain't signing up.

  • Restoras||

    Nepal?

  • Tim||

    Forget it, I'm rolling.

  • Drake||

    Sure, it would be really great to see a country of 23 million crushed, raped, and looted by an evil communist dictatorship.

  • Tim||

    I didn't say it would be great, I said I wouldn't go fight for them, risk igniting a nuclear war over it.

  • Drake||

    How fast do you think Taiwan or Japan could assemble a nuke if their national survival was at stake? An afternoon?

  • Tim||

    I think the Chinese have already figured that out.

  • crashland||

    An evil communist dictatorship with Starbucks and Hooters... Chinese girls don't really even have hooters but you can get a beer and some wings in the heart of evil RED China.

    China's government sucks ass but at least it sucks a hell of a lot less now than it did under Mao.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Chinese girls don't really even have hooters

    YOU LIE!

  • crashland||

    Implants. Those are not real hooters.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    How do you know? Have you felt them you lucky bastard?

  • Restoras||

    Or Japan, for that matter.

  • Calidissident||

    I wouldn't want to see that happen, but I don't think the US should intervene in such a scenario, as there isn't any security threat. And with the exception of possibly Taiwan, I think the odds of the Chinese blitzkrieging country after country in the near future (in the event we stopped defense pacts with the countries in the area) to be very low. Down the line, I could see them getting into a war with Japan, but they would need to seriously improve their military capabilities to be able to conquer and occupy Japan

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    We just have to be realistic about where the real power lies. Our economy is the golden goose.

  • Capt Ace Rimmer||

    There is more than one way to conquer territory; sometimes you just have to pay money for it.

  • crashland||

    If we, say owe the Chicoms a cool trillion, isn't the war over and they've won?

    If the Chicoms were really worried about our military, would they really buy our bonds? Were we buying Hitler's debt in 1940?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Actually, US banks did take on quite a bit of German debt both during the Weimar Era and in the decade or so during which the Nazi party held power in peacetime.

  • DRM||

    If we, say owe the Chicoms a cool trillion, isn't the war over and they've won?

    How so? It's all fiat money, after all.

    The Chinese send us physical goods, for which we give them slips of paper. They take these slips of paper, and use them to buy promises from us that we'll later give them a few more slips of paper later.

    You present this setup to, say, Julius Caesar, and he'd instantly notice that we're collecting tribute from the Chinese. They're giving us massive amounts of goods, and we're giving them nothing. Just like we extracted tribute from the Japanese after crushing them in World War II. But we didn't even have to conquer China to get them to send us tribute.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    That very much depends on what those cuts are, I would think.

    I contend that you're not going to get the desired cuts and effects without Americans first deciding that they're OK with all sorts of bad things in foreign countries playing out on CNN without feeling a need to send in troops to wipe every tear and mend every bone.

    Until enough people figure out that the US doesn't need to be the Dudley Do-Right in every foreign policy kerfuffle that gets enough eyes moist, cuts will be haphazard and result in people (civilians or military) dying because the wrong thing was cut.

  • crashland||

    Maybe the SOTU won't be such a bore after all... Ted Nugent is going to be in da haus.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com.....ate-union/

    Will Ted be Ted? Will they broadcast Ted giving Obummer the finger?

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