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The Defense budget: ‘A shrinking force at a higher cost’

ASK THIS | February 18, 2006

Defense expert Winslow Wheeler tells reporters how the 2007 Pentagon budget and the new Quadrennial Defense Review are high on gimmicks but low on effectiveness for combating terror.

By Winslow Wheeler

Q. Does the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) support and implement national security strategy?

Q. Does the 2007 budget implement either the QDR or the strategy?

Q. In 2000, presidential candidate George Bush promised the troops, “Help is on the way.” Is it?

Five points can be made about the new Quadrennial Defense Review and Defense Department budget that was released to the public earlier this month and will occupy Congress’s attention for several months to come.

1. The 2007 defense budget achieves a post-World War II high for defense spending, yet it supports new lows in the quantity of Army divisions, Navy combat ships, and Air Force wings. It is quite literally a shrinking force for higher cost, and the current DOD plan is to accelerate those trends. For example, under “modularity” the Army will increase the number of combat brigades but will simultaneously reduce the number of “maneuver” (combat) battalions within the new expanded number of brigades. The cost of this “reform” is several billion dollars.

2. Both liberals and conservatives prejudice their depictions of the defense budget to conform to their party line. They do this by showing this year’s defense budget alongside irrelevant measures (“discretionary” appropriations and Gross Domestic Product, respectively) to make military spending appear, alternatively, huge and tiny. These days, few consider a depiction of the defense budget in a proper context, namely the defense spending of other nations.

3.  Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s QDR fails to address the key rationale for its very existence: that the defense budget ought to be sized to the defense plan and the defense plan ought to implement the national defense strategy. In fact, the 2005 QDR does not address budget requirements - even superficially - and while the national strategy focuses on unconventional 4th generation war, a.k.a. the Long War, the defense plan remains focused on conventional war. The Congressional Budget Office and others have assessed the current defense plan to cost $50 billion to $100 billion more than has been included in the budget. While DOD has sought program reductions of $32 billion to address this gap, the CBO estimate of under funding is for each year in the five-year plan and the DOD “solution” would add up to the $32 billion only after five years. This feeble response to the problem actually makes it worse.

4.  Efforts to modernize and adapt to our new security situation, for strengthening our forces for 4th generation war are too little, too late, and other ideas start to fall apart upon closer inspection. For example, the new DOD directive to train combat personnel for peacekeeping will simply mean they are fully and properly trained for neither of those full-time jobs.

5. The budget is crammed with politically inspired budget gimmicks to mask its real size. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld has requested a budget he knows Congress will augment and expand to undo the deficiencies he has inserted into it. Proposals to reduce the Army Reserve and National Guard, to truncate C-17 production, and to retire prematurely the F-117 “stealth” bomber, and more, are transparent “Washington Monument Drills” – proposed budget reductions the Pentagon knows Congress will immediately restore back into the budget. The appearance of tightening any spending is surely illusory. These gimmicks should be termed “Rumsfeld’s WMDs.”

In sum, in a time of war and when certain critical elements of the defense budget require steadfast support and straightforward justification, today’s Pentagon leadership gives the nation mismatches between rhetoric and reality layered with budget gimmicks. 

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