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Starve the Beast

February 15, 2012 

In light of the United States’ current fiscal crisis and the cost of maintaining the vast network of military bases and expensive weapons programs, Mike Prokosh, national coordinator of the New Priorities Network, quoting Ronald Reagan, recommended  “‘Starve the Beast’” (February 8, 2012):

U.S. cities and towns have fired half-a-million workers since 2008, and another quarter-million municipal employees may lose their jobs by the end of this year. Venice, Florida is losing its fire marshal, deputy fire chief, and fire inspector. San Jose, California may have to shut down all its libraries and community center programs. Gardner, Massachusetts has one clerk running its municipal grounds, parks, playgrounds, cemetery, forestry, flood control, insect control, golf course, and swimming pool. Fond du Lac, Wisconsin cut city inspectors, police, and crossing guards.

Los Angeles, like hundreds of other cities, is cutting back bus service and raising fares. Lincoln, Nebraska is deciding whether to close a fire station and leave one end of town without rapid fire and medical emergency responders. Baltimore has debated closing five of its firehouses. Other cities across the country are debating similar choices in their worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Our cities and towns need a helping hand from Washington. Instead, Congress is cutting funding they depend on. Under last year’s deficit-reduction deal, domestic spending is dropping about one-quarter from 2010 levels. Meanwhile, military spending, which is supposed to be cut equally, is barely being nicked.

The budget crunch is forcing the Navy to curb the growth of its fleet.  AOL News reported “Navy Fleet Will Not Grow for 5 Years: CNO” (February 7, 2012):

ABOARD THE USS WASP: Putting the best face on a potentially grim future, the Navy’s top officer is telling his sailors that the active fleet will be about the same size in five years as it is now, despite recently announced plans to retire a bunch of ships early and to not build as many new ones as planned.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, told sailors and Marines here that the number of ships in the fleet in 2017 “will be about the same, 285, but it won’t be going up as high as we wanted.”

The Navy has planned for at least 313 ships in the battle fleet for years, and has counted on rapid procurement of the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and serial production of the Arleigh Burke destroyers and Virginia-class attack submarines to help reach that number.

But in his preview of the fiscal year 2013 budget, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Navy will retire seven Ticonderoga-classcruisers and two amphibious ships earlier than planned, would remove two LCS and eight Joint High Speed Vessels from the five-year defense budget plan and delay other ship construction starts.

The Congressional Research Service report on the Navy’s shipbuilding plan can be downloaded here.  This plan cuts into the procurement contracts of the Littoral Combat Ship and Joint High Speed Vessel, of which the Hawaii Superferry was a prototype.  But with the Navy’s acquisition of the two Superferry vessels from the Maritime Administration and plans to station at least one of the ships in the western Pacific and the other possibly in Hawai’i or another location, it looks like the Superferry may have risen from the dead to threaten us once again.

The Army has announced that is will cut back on the number of brigade combat teams, but this will mean a consolidation of battalions into larger existing brigades. Hawai’i will likely see an expansion of its existing brigade combat teams as a result.   But these cuts don’t necessarily save the public any money.  The New Atlanticist published an article “Brigade Combat Team Cuts Don’t Translate into Budget Savings  (January 26, 2012):

The recent announcement that the Obama administration plans to cut two of the four remaining US brigade combat teams (BCTs) in Europe came as no surprise to those tracking the ongoing debate over the future size of the American military and the Army in particular. Assuming the Army is getting smaller, it’s obviously easier to draw down units based in Europe than in a place like Georgia or Texas, since there are of course no US Congressmen or Senators representing Grafenwoehr, Germany or Vicenza, Italy.

What will probably come as a surprise to many, though, is that such cuts are unlikely to result in any appreciable defense budget savings over time, and if they do they’ll likely prove highly damaging to US national security interests in the long run as it becomes more difficult to maintain interoperability with our most likely, most capable future coalition partners.

The commonly held view that US forces in Europe are still guarding the Fulda Gap against a revanchist Russia is mistaken. Given the lack of serious threats to allied territory in Europe, few analysts outside of perhaps Warsaw or Tallinn – who still don’t trust their much larger neighbor to the east despite its limited military capabilities – regard defending alliance territory and deterring potential aggression as the primary mission of US forces in Europe. Instead, the three most important functions of American military presence in Europe today are to maintain interoperability with existing capable allies; to build partner capacity among newer, less capable, allies and partners; and to ensure access for military operations beyond Europe.

For a progressive analysis of the military budget and its implications for other spending, see the National Priorities Project.  They have a new FAQ page “Talking About Military Spending and the Pentagon Budget – Fiscal Year 2013 (And Beyond)” (February 7, 2012). Here are a few excerpts:

Q: There’s been a lot of conflicting reports in the media in recent months about possible cuts to Pentagon spending. What are the numbers, and what’s really going on?

A: The new Pentagon budget plan released on Jan. 26 sets the Defense Department’s annual “base” budget for Fiscal Year 2013 at $525 billion – 46 percent above the 1998 level. Adjusted for inflation the change from 2012 to 2013 will be a reduction of 3.2 percent. In addition the base budget jumped 55 percent after inflation between 1998 and 2010. These figures do not include war costs or the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy.

As the chart below shows, current defense spending levels – even without funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – are higher than at any time since World War II when adjusted for inflation.

Q: Recently the Pentagon announced its new strategic plan which will guide how it trims $259 billion from its budget over the next five years. What’s in it?

A: On Jan. 5 Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey – joined by President Obama in a rare visit to the Pentagon – rolled out the military’s new strategic plan.

Secretary Panetta and General Dempsey’s briefing was short on detail, but here are the basics:

  1. The military of the future will be smaller, but more agile.
  2. Post-Iraq and Afghanistan, the size of the Army and the Marine Corps – their “end-strengths” – will be reduced.
  3. The military will rely less on stationing troops at forward bases – there will be a draw down of U.S. forces in Europe, for example.
  4. The military will continue to shift its focus towards the Asia Pacific region, in part in response to China’s growing economic and military power, while maintaining a robust presence in the Middle East.

On Jan. 26 Secretary Panetta and Gen. Dempsey released some details of the upcoming fiscal year 2013 budget request. It includes provisions to remove two Army brigades from Europe and reduce overall Army and Marine Corps end-strengths by roughly 100,000. Nonetheless, the Marine Corps and the Army will still be larger than they were prior to Sept. 11, 2001.

Q: Does a smaller military mean it will be less expensive?

A: Not according to the Pentagon and the White House. Defense Secretary Panetta is scrambling to find an estimated $487 billion in cuts over the next decade, and says that anything further would be “disastrous.” Meanwhile, President Obama told a Jan. 5, 2012 Pentagon briefing that “over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this – it will still grow…”

Q: Won’t reductions in military spending mean fewer jobs?

A: Studies have shown that compared to other areas of federal investment, military spending is a poor source of job creation. According to the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), each $1 billion invested in clean energy technology generated 50 percent more jobs than the same amount of spending on the military. Investing in health care created 54 percent more jobs, while $1 billion spent on education resulted in 138 percent more jobs. Or to put it another way, if federal investment in the military creates fewer jobs than other federal spending, then cutting the military will cost fewer jobs than cuts to other programs.

For more on jobs and military spending, see PDA’s “The Pentagon Budget and Jobs: How Does Defense Spending Rate for Job Creation?”

Q: What is Congress likely to do in the face of Pentagon efforts to reduce defense spending?

A: Some members of Congress are willing to put defense spending “on the table,” particularly in the name of deficit reduction. Members will continue, however, to resist cuts to their pet projects. Cutting weapons programs has never been easy on Capitol Hill. That won’t change.

Will Hawai’i be able to shake our addiction to military pork any time soon?  I won’t bet on it. But I do know that our environment, schools, public works, health and welfare programs, and affordable housing would be more strategic places to invest public resources that are currently being squandered on endless wars and maintaining a global military empire unprecedented in the history of the world.