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  • Defense in the Driver’s Seat

    US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

    This weekend, the secretary of defense called for additional spending cuts to keep the defense budget flat for the future. But flat budgets aren’t always smart budgets—or even an effective way to cut waste. The defense budget doesn’t need simple cuts. It needs true reform.

    The Heritage Foundation has long argued that internal defense-budget imbalances continue to threaten the modernization of America’s military equipment. Real reform—beyond weapons system cuts—must be enacted to funnel money back to this priority.

    Unfortunately, Secretary Robert Gates continues to let the defense tail wag the foreign-policy dog. His Kansas speech discussed hard choices, the “dilemma” of paying for America’s national security, and the need to maintain balance among federal programs. Washington’s global budgeting priorities are the stuff of a larger debate, one that should involve the American people. But it’s a topic that falls largely outside the purview of the secretary of defense.

    Defense policy is supposed to be subordinate to foreign policy. Defense policy—and by extension a plan of what the U.S. military must buy to meet the nation’s needs—is supposed to be dictated by America’s foreign-policy goals and vital national interests, as outlined by the president.

    America’s military power should match the commitments America’s military is expected to keep, which in turn are determined by how American political leaders, over time, define the vital interests of the U.S. It is not up to the Pentagon to determine America’s foreign-policy vision. Unfortunately, this administration has yet to articulate that vision. It is supposed to be contained in the National Security Strategy report. But the administration has not yet completed that report.

    The vacuum of leadership keeps Secretary Gates in the foreign-policy driver’s seat—a position he has assumed with no visible sign of reluctance.

    America’s unique role in the world places growing demands on the U.S. military to protect friends and allies, deter enemies and potential challengers, and shape and influence the events and investments of other countries. Maintaining our core military advantages requires financial investment.

    In Kansas, the secretary of defense spoke as though it were inevitable that the Pentagon cannot get enough money to sustain today’s force structure, much less get the funds need to equip the next generation men and women in uniform. But is national security truly unaffordable? Who made that decision and when? And shouldn’t any decision on this be put on hold until the administration delivers its National Security Strategy, so we can see what our troops will be expected to achieve? Only then can our leaders plan—and budget—accordingly.

    Cross-posted at The Corner.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    2 Responses to Defense in the Driver’s Seat

    1. Robert K. DC says:

      Ms. Eaglen,

      Excellent Post! We need to keep the pressure on the current administration to publish and clearly articulate what our national security strategy is and how the national security enterprise could best support those goals and objectives. It seemed pointless for both DHS and DoD to publish their quadrennial reviews without considering the overarching national strategy first.

      One group that you failed to mention is the IC. The ODNI needs to be actively involved in this process to feed both policy makers and national security strategist assessments on the future strategic environment. As a nation we will be encountering a situation we haven’t witnessed in over two decades, namely the emergence of a peer competitor, in China, and limited resources. This will force the nation to identify and manage risk – we won’t be able to simply “buy it down” as we have done in the past.

    2. Wildcat from Dallast says:

      It seems to me that we have seen this unwarranted process of arbitrarily reducing the defense budget by a specified percentage rather than performing due diligence on current and emerging threats to American security relative to the missions we expect the military to accomplish to meet Constitutional requirements. This is not at all like our nation’s situation 200 years ago when our primary enemy would have to project their force by sailing here in wooden ships to fight us on our shores. Even then we could form an effective fighting force and move into tactical positions to effectively thwart the attacking force.

      Today things are much different including the way in which enemies travel to our country as well as the speed to global communications to alert us. However, we generally do not have other countries waging war against us. What we do have to counter is far more insidious. Not only are there a number of credible international terrorist organizations who would like nothing more than to do Americans harm (especially civilians) but we have an exceptionally porous southern border that has not been secure for decades. That poses not only an illegal immigrant problem, a drug cartel war problem and all the associated criminal acts with that illegal activity but terrorists could very easily work a deal with these drug lords to get bonafide terrorists into the United States. Once inside our borders they could travel relatively unabated to deal death and destruction to the American citizens virtually anywhere in the country.

      When you consider just those credible threats alone it is not too difficult to ascertain that we need more capability and more people, not less. The one military service designated to secure our borders, capture smugglers and interdict illegal drugs, the United States Coast Guard, has not exactly had its budget expanded one iota to meet their mission. They need to have their budget and manpower greatly expanded to meet existing and emerging threats, not to mention some modernization and greater firepower. While the combat arms units of the Reserve Component of the Army have been relegated to the individual states National Guard units, we need to alter our reserve component to activate Regimental Cavalry units in the USAR to enhance our southern border. Additional Armored Cavalry Regiments need to be activated to the Active Component as well.

      None of this is cheap but securing our borders as a noticeable aspect of national security, a Constitutional requirement of the executive branch means it must be done. If we eliminate the useless entitlements that have been counterproductive for the American family thus the nation, then we can use those resources wisely for national defense.

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