After a decade of constant warfare, the Pentagon has new marching orders. With the continued repercussions of the global economic crisis still ringing in the ears of leading commanders and theorists, as well as the recent withdrawal from Iraq, military and political figures have formulated a defense plan which they hope will keep American forces alert and responsive while minimizing the fiscal footprint of defense on American budgets in budgets to come.
The transcript of the press conference shows a lot of lip-service to keeping from “hollowing out” the military or repeating the mistakes of the post-Second World War and post-Vietnam eras, indispensable magic words that are repeated as often as the most ancient mantras in the political arena in an attempt to ward off the jinns of partisan politics. These key phrases are nothing new, nor are they only coming from the Obama Administration. Last October, General (ret.) George Casey, former commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, made similar remarks that the armed forces of the future had to be leaner, cheaper and capable of rapid deployments.
In the aftermath of September 11th, defense expenditures grew astronomically. All branches of the armed forces consume ammunition at a phenomenal rate, meaning that increased acquisition of ordinance, on everything from howitzer shells to JDAMs carried by strike fighters to the rounds in assault rifles. Of course, there are also the necessities for our soldiers. Body armor, meals, water purification, fuel for vehicles, Then, you have to get the stuff there.The amount of fuel consumed in long, drawn-out supply routes snaking through Pakistan and the former Soviet Union, as well as the money needed for contractors, subcontractors and the amount lost as money changes hands in the forms of payments, bribes and gifts in graft-prone countries does little to help keep a trim Department of Defense budget.
Perhaps the single most underestimated portion of Defense’s budget is the amount they spend on men and women in uniform themselves. Everything from combat wages to care for the wounded take up a massive percentage of the Department of Defense’s budget every year.
So, what will be cut? In one word: Europe. The United States has, for some time, been hinting at a shift in focus from traditional transatlantic paradigm of foreign policy to one that focuses on Asia and the Pacific. The number of bases and standing troops in Europe and European-linked missions will be drastically cut as the Pentagon seeks to trim fat. What will be kept? Easily deployable forces within the Marine Corps and all eleven of America’s carrier task forces. Clearly, the message to be taken away from this is that the US will maintain the capabilties to show up on a country’s doorstep overnight, but will no longer engage in the long-term nation-building strategies of the Bush era. With a series of bases built for the fast transition of troops across the Pacific, the armed forces of the United States are poised to offer a reaffirmed commitment to our treaty obligations along the Pacific Rim without breaking the bank.
Massive budget cuts are nothing new for the Department of Defense. Even at the eve of the Iraq War, then-Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cancelled the controversial Crusader mobile artillery program, and later cancelled the Comanche stealth helicopter program. Combined, the two programs $18 billion. Under the Eisenhower administration, the New Look doctrine emphasized massive cuts in standing forces and new development in the name of a massive nuclear deterrent that was supposed to stop any and all Soviet aggression. The first Bush and Clinton administrations, filled with post-Cold War hope and idealism, saw the rise of the so-called “peace dividends” and massive cuts in defense spending in light of the implosion of the Soviet Union. Still reeling from the aftereffects of the recession as well as fallout from the failure of the so-called super committee, something had to be done to bring the US budget under control. Defense, having ballooned to unheard-of proportions, was the first place to start.
Cuts in and of themselves are, if anything, completely natural. However, with such a fundamental series of shifts in American military thinking, shifts away from nation-building, Eurocentric strategy and large standing forces, it remains to be seen if the Pentagon and the White House have created a concise plan for a leaner future, or if they have bitten off more than they can choose.
Image Credit: Department of Defense, 2011
Graph Credit: Arkansas:Abroad, 2011
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