People and Equipment, Wear and Tear: We can’t solve the deficit problem with more defense spending cuts

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BY: Frank J. Sullivan
The Washington Post, June 21, 1993

In recent years, defense spending has been cut about 30 percent in real terms, and more real cuts
of 5 percent to 10 percent per year can be forecast through 1997. Some 1.2 million defense
related jobs have already been cut, with another million or so more planned. No tanks, only three
warships and 92 combat aircraft are budgeted for procurement next year — far below replacement
needs. Military formations — divisions, ships, air squadrons — are being rapidly reduced. Military
bases are being closed in record numbers, and defense industry layoffs and cutbacks continue

A major dismantling of the Cold War American military establishment is well underway. It is time
to stop and take a look at what will be left and whether it is adequate for future needs.

There are several compelling reasons to declare a temporary moratorium on further cutbacks in
American military spending.

We should keep enough of the right stuff to help ensure America’s role as superpower in a very
unsettled world. Such order and stability as resulted from the alliances created by the U.S.-Soviet
confrontation have not been replaced by a new kind of order, and the list of trouble spots is long
— Iraq, Bosnia, North Korea, Somalia and Guatemala, to name a few. The troubles run the gamut
from nuclear weapons to humanitarian relief. While U.S. forces may not be used in most cases,
military power is one aspect of American world leadership and helps create other non-military

We have not reduced the calls on our military forces to help out around the world. Iraq, Somalia
and the Adriatic (Bosnia) all have required significant and rapid commitments of U.S. military
personnel and equipment that endure for months and even years. With shrinking numbers, those
that are left must operate at higher tempo — putting more wear and tear on people and equipment.
The recent warnings on recruiting and readiness may mean we are beginning to use up the force.

We do not have a consensus on a military strategy for the future. That means we don’t have firm
criteria for setting new priorities within a smaller defense budget. Both the threat and the overseas
land bases to support our forces have changed. The types and proportions of military capabilities
that were needed to face massive Soviet tank formations along the inter German border from
highly developed bases deep in Europe are different from those needed for ill-defined, smaller
actions in unpredictable and poorly developed locations supported largely from the sea. If we
continue to cut using Cold War priorities, we may cut the things we need most for the future and
keep the things that we need least.

We cannot solve the deficit problem with further defense cuts. The deficit is forecast to grow to
more than $ 350 billion within five years, while total defense spending declines to $ 250 billion. A
temporary hiatus in future defense cuts would have only a marginal impact on the deficit. We
should not risk major damage to American security and leadership in the name of minor changes
to the bleak deficit picture.

More and more of the declining defense budget is being siphoned off for things other than military
capability. Aid to the former Soviet Union, converting defense industry to civilian use,
environmental cleanup, health care, base closure costs and a growing variety of civilian programs
are all being funded out of the defense budget to the tune of billions. There are estimates that a
growing 25 percent of the entire DOD budget is outside of the military departments, yet all the
combat units are funded by the military departments. The elimination of the “walls” between
defense and domestic spending this year by the Budget Enforcement Act of 1991 could accelerate
the siphoning of defense funds for non-military purposes. We should impose tougher budget
discipline to ensure against backdoor cuts of real American military capability.

Real savings in overhead and infrastructure are lagging behind cuts in forces. It takes more time to
reorganize support functions, realign and close bases, release civilian and military personnel, and
restructure industry than it does to stop operating ships, tanks, and aircraft. It will take several
more years to fully translate the budget cuts of the last few years into savings of overhead and
infrastructure. In the meantime, there is a likelihood that military capability will pay a
disproportionate and unintended part of the bill. We should take time to ensure that proper
support and overhead reductions are in fact being made before piling more cuts on military

This is not to argue that there should be no future cuts in defense spending. It is to say that we
should take a time out — freeze defense purchasing power for a year or so — until we clearly
know where we stand and there is a consensus on where to go. American security, leadership and
prestige depend on it.

The writer was staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee during the Ford and
Carter administrations and of the Senate Appropriations Committee during the Reagan

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