Last January, the Pentagon unveiled some preliminary ideas for making our military leaner, more efficient and less expensive. The part that the Republicans focused on was the cut backs in compensation and reduced hardware purchases. The part the Democrats focused on, and were shouted down about, were the reductions in costs. A proposal put forward this past week by the Stimson Center expands on the Pentagon ideas and fills in the details at a variety of budget levels.
Stimson Center co-founder Barry Blechman put together a study group that included retired Marine Corps General James Cartwright, retired Admiral Bill Owens, and scholars Gordon Adams and Anne-Marie Slaughter. Blechman explained that their model, called “Strategic Agility,” is “More an evolution than any kind of radical change. It’s a shift, a greater shift, toward and expeditionary model of U. S. military power that moves away from the kind of static big bases that characterized our Cold War posture to rotational deployments of forces in and out of regions of exercise.”
Don’t you hate people who don’t speak a common language? Short version – let’s get rid of the big overseas bases built for the Cold War and create small, movable units.
During the noise about the attack on Benghazi, a couple of things were mentioned and passed over. First is the existence of AfricCom and EuroCom. They are Unified Combatant Command units. There are six Unified Command units which have regional areas of jurisdiction, and three with operational areas like transportation. The regional ones are supposed to be under the command of two or more branches of the military and include a rapid response team under the heading of Special Ops. Our African unit is not operational yet. It is being trained and organized. The second thing missed about Benghazi is that those UC units are not very fast or very flexible in their current states.
The European and African UCs are based in Germany, the Pacific UC in Hawaii and the other three in the United States. CentCom is the Middle East as far east as Pakistan and the Muslim former Soviet Union “Stan” countries. USSouthCom is Latin America south of Mexico and the Caribbean. CentCom is technically based in Tampa, Florida, but our continued presence in Afghanistan provides their real operational base.
Building from the idea of the unified combatant commands is what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has been working on ever since he took over the Pentagon. The UCs are intended to be fast, flexible and adaptable to any situation. An essential ingredient for speed would be the ability to base these units in the middle of their areas of responsibility.
While the Stimson Center proposals are directed at meeting cost cutting goals (which they say can reach $500 billion through better deployment, $300 billion through compensation reform and $100 billion with better purchasing practices) their $900 billion is savings over ten years. Any savings proposal runs into a Republican party that wants to protect defense contractors and increase military spending.
The basic premise behind the Stimson Center proposals is the one worth listening to. We do not need a huge military base in Germany. We don’t even need to be manning a radar station in the Negev Desert. The European Union needs to step up its own defenses and let us off the hook, and Israel is perfectly capable of taking over that radar station and letting our 120 personnel come home.
The Pentagon budget is $711 billion a year, 20% of our national budget. It is 41% of the world’s defense budget. We spend as much as the next 14 countries combined. We spend almost five times as much as China, almost ten times as much as Russia and 11 times as much as our strongest ally, the United Kingdom. We could cut our military budget in half next year and still spend 1.65 times as much as China and Russia combined. We could cut $355.5 billion from our military and still be the strongest power on the planet. That, all by itself would be 27.5% of our yearly deficit.
Allowing the Pentagon to decide how best to cut its budget is the first step toward a balanced approach to controlling our budget. It is not an area where the decisions should come from Congress. They want to protect military contractors and cut programs. It is not a responsible or reasonable way to approach cutting spending.