Can the Defense Budget Shrink Without Risking National Security?

Every municipal police and fire department has mastered the oldest bureaucratic budget maneuver in the book: If told to cut your budget slightly, don’t eliminate unneeded positions, buy less fancy office furniture, or delay buying new cars and equipment.

Just announce the closure of an entire police or fire station.

As the Chicago Tribune reported not long ago, “‘Everybody on the City Council is in favor of facilities consolidation until they start to talk about the police station in their neighborhood,’ said Ald. Ricardo Munoz, 22nd, who added that he would fight attempts to close the station in his ward.”

Since protecting citizens’ lives is the first duty of government, public-safety functions are usually the last to feel the effects of tightened budgets. This is especially true at the federal level, where cuts to the defense budget are generally portrayed as assaults on the nation’s very existence. There are a variety of reasons to tread softly on any sort of defense cuts: You only get to err by under-defending the country once. The battlefield edge today, and even more so in the future is a product of advanced—and expensive—technologies. Those who put their lives on the line for the rest of us deserve the best equipment and protective gear, and the most reasonable pay and benefits, that we can afford.

But does that mean that we cannot cut the defense budget without short-changing national security? To hear some tell it the answer is “no.” But the Defense Department is part of the same government that most Americans abjure for its inefficiency, waste, and fraud. In fact, you can find just about everything that’s wrong with government in the defense budget. Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn, no liberal, has derided the Pentagon as the “Department of Everything” for its wide-ranging activities.

Read more. [Image: Jacquelyn Martin/Reuters]


A Return to Responsibility
What President Obama and Congress Can Learn About Defense Budgets from Past Presidents

Total U.S. defense spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) increased so much over the past decade that it reached levels not seen since World War II when the United States had 12 million people under arms and waged wars on three continents.

Bringing the defense budget down to the levels that existed under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, H.W. Bush, and Clinton would require reductions of $250 billion to $300 billion annually. >continue summary<

Full Report PDF (41 pages)

3 Myths About the Defense Budget

By Ben Freeman

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The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2015 budget request has been savaged by Republicans and even some Democrats. Critics argue it’s “a skeleton defense budget,” that will “dramatically reduce the size of the Army to pre-World War II levels,” and all of this “will embolden America’s foes to take aggressive acts.”

All of these critiques have one thing in common: they’re not true.

Here’s why:

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As the world digs out from the economic downturn of 2009, it seems that annual growth in global defense spending is back. Total global defense spending is seen increasing 0.6 percent from $1.538 trillion in 2013 to $1.547 trillion in 2014, according to a forecast released Tuesday in London from IHS Jane’s Aerospace, Defence & Security. If the forecast proves accurate, it will be the first time since 2009 that the world grew spending on military hardware and armies since 2009.

The top 20 spenders shelled out a combined $1.316 trillion on defense-related expenditures in 2013, with the United States making up just over 44 percent of that spending at $582.4 billion.

US Intelligence Budgets Totaled $75 Billion in 2012 | John Glaser

The United States spent $75.4 billion on its military and civilian spy agencies in the last fiscal year, according to officially released and incomplete budget records.

The US intelligence budget includes the Military Intelligence Program, which cost $21.5 billion in 2012, and the National Intelligence Program (NIP), which includes agencies like the CIA and NSA and which cost $53.9 billion.

The NIP budget started being publicly disclosed only in 2007, and every year since the budget has risen. But for 2012, the budget was $700 million lower than 2011.

The government only agrees to release the “top-line” or totals of the budgets, claiming that releasing any more details would provide potential adversaries (namely, American citizens) with too much information.

“Beyond the disclosure of the NIP top-line figure, there will be no other disclosures of currently classified NIP budget information because such disclosures could harm national security,” said the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

In fact, the intelligence community had for years said disclosing even the “top-line” numbers would be harmful to national security. And now that they have been forced to disclose that – without any harm to national security – they claim any more would be dangerous.

The real danger for them is to have their budgets talked about too publicly, especially in a political environment of cutting budgets and deficits. If the public know too much about America’s overly interventionist, abusive, extra-legal, and increasingly para-military spy agencies, they might demand cuts. Therefore, goes the thinking, as much information as possible has to be kept from them.
Mind the Machines

8/1/11 - Charley Bravo

One interesting upshot of the debt ceiling soap opera: Soon Republicans will argue that government spending promotes jobs and economic vitality. That’s because the new “trigger mechanism” looming over the proposed November joint congressional budget committee includes an additional $600 billion in military cuts.

Sure the foreground tale of woe will feature wailing and gnashing of teeth over jeopardizing our “readiness” and “security” with abstract figures pulled out of “thin air”. Lindsey Graham has already played this tune. But palpable absurdity will force a shift. The United States is not under attack. Eleven super carrier battle groups and a redundant nuclear triad are not holding the line in Iraq or Afghanistan. Ultimately both the the euphemism of “defense” and their real concerns will become more explicit: Pork and economic stimulus for congressional districts and whole states.

Perhaps it’s already interesting that Graham inveighs against imposing mechanized, abstract trump cards as political solutions. But it’s doubtful the conceptual significance of this tack will register with either Graham or the nihilistic tea baggers. Rapt in quasi-religious principle worship, they even threaten filibuster for the sake of the soulless mechanism of a balanced budget amendment. In their spiritual warfare with the abomination of worldly philosophers, the art of politics and an economic patient in need of treatment are ignored out of an infatuation with a certain Palin and a machine that goes “ping”.

And yet, even with their “victory” in altering “politics as usual”, something heretofore rather lacking in all the debt drama enters the dialogue: our bloated military machine.

Defense Funding Extends Beyond the Pentagon’s Budget

Policymakers and defense officials have recently expressed concern that defense spending is insufficient, citing the recent drop in base defense funding as proof. The use of this lower figure understates the actual taxpayer cost of maintaining the United States’ global military presence and interventionist foreign policies.

This week’s chart puts into perspective the amount of funding—and expense—that is not accounted for in the figures widely cited by policymakers and defense officials.

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Senate Version of Defense Budget Omits Antigay Provisions


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OutServe-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson

The U.S. Senate passed the next year’s defense budget without some of the proposed harmful language that would limit the use of military facilities for same-sex couples.

The bill passed with full bipartissan support, with a 98-0 vote. The House version of the bill, which was passed in May, included an amendment to give “conscience protections” to chaplains and other service personnel who do not want to minister or work with gay, lesbian, or bisexual service members. Another amendment in the House version would also bar same-sex couples from using military bases or any other defense facilities for wedding ceremonies.

Allyson Robinson, the new executive director of OutServe-SLDN, praised the bipartisan passage of the law Tuesday, and said her organization would work with Congress to make sure the final version of the bill is stripped of the antigay provisions.

“The Department of Defense has already made it clear—and appropriately so—that decisions about the use of facilities should be made on a sexual orientation neutral basis,“ Robinson said in a statement Tuesday. "Anything else is discrimination, pure and simple.”