- By Kori SchakeKori Schake is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and contributor to Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last week the main outlines of the Pentagon’s 2013 budget that will implement the $487 billion reduction in spending eventuated by spending limits in the law passed by Congress last summer. Secretary Panetta’s budget represents a sensible set of choices in an environment of budget constraint likely to be of extended duration. Unfortunately, the budget does not constitute a program that carries out the law: DOD has produced a budget that cannot be implemented should any reductions beyond the 2013 topline occur. As Secretary Panetta himself has said, not only the budget choices, but the entire strategy collapses with any further cuts.
Panetta essentially flipped his predecessor’s priorities, accepting risk in the near-term to preserve procurement of systems considered central to long-term risk management (i.e., preserving our technological and innovation edge as China rises). The programmatic choices consist of three main elements: decreasing the size of the force, improving long-range strike capabilities and relying on them to carry the burden of combat, and shifting to special operations the mission of training friendly forces.
However, DOD’s plans contain several elements unlikely to survive contact with reality. First, as the Pentagon not only admits but trumpets, this strategic guidance is unexecutable if further defense cuts occur. On what possible basis does Secretary Panetta believe the law outlining sequestration cuts of an additional $600-800 billion to national security will not be enacted? Congress passed the Budget Control Act by large margins (269-161 in the House, 74-26 in the Senate). The Select Committee proved incapable of reaching a deal that would prevent sequestration. The president has threatened to veto any changes to the distribution of sequestration cuts in the existing law. Secretary Panetta himself has supported the president’s veto threat. Where is the basis for believing the law will not come into effect?
Yet Secretary Panetta produced a budget willfully ignorant of the continuum of reductions, a budget that will be irrelevant before it even becomes law. It is irresponsible for DOD to plan on this basis. At a minimum, during the authorization and appropriations process, Congress should require the Pentagon to incorporate excursions into the Future Years Defense Program that indicate how DOD will adapt this budget to the additional cuts in current law. If this budget cannot accommodate spending levels Congress has established, the Pentagon ought to have to explain how it plans to bring itself into compliance.
Moreover, Congress should seriously question the math of Panetta’s budget submission in two areas: the $60 billion it relies on from cutting waste, and the reductions in personnel expenses. Secretary Panetta’s budget balances only with $60 billion additionally wrung out of DOD by "cutting waste." In a budget of roughly $535 billion a year, this is little more than 1 percent a year, which doesn’t sound like much. But if the Pentagon hasn’t already eliminated waste in the $400 billion in cuts undertaken by Secretary Gates, the inclusion of a sloppy category suggests there is a greater margin for reductions that belies the Secretary’s hyperbole about any further cuts.
Personnel costs account for 30 percent of the defense budget. That is unexceptional: we have the world’s finest military largely because we have the world’s most adaptive soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. They deserve to be well-compensated not only because they put themselves in harm’s way for us all, but also because we need to keep innovative people in the force.
But military pay has climbed significantly in the past decade as the wars revealed our Army and Marine Corps were too small for the demands of counter-insurgency. The need to recruit an additional 80,000 combatants in wartime understandably put upward pressure on salaries and benefits. Reducing the force ought to generate possibilities for reductions, and the Panetta budget evidently plans to include modest changes in these areas. Any such cuts will be bruisingly difficult to enact, requiring a major effort by both the White House and the Pentagon to build a political coalition that protects lawmakers from pressure by military retirees’ and veterans groups. Yet how will a president who advocates caregiver leave for deploying service members stake out this territory in an election year?
The Obama administration’s reluctance to undertake the defense planning and political lifting that will make Secretary Panetta’s budget a blueprint for enacting legislation means the Pentagon will be scrambling next summer to produce a wholly new strategy and a wholly new budget that conform to spending limits the Congress has already passed.
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
Kevin Baron is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy, covering defense and military issues in Washington. He is also vice president of the Pentagon Press Association. Baron previously was a national security staff writer for National Journal, covering the "business of war." Prior to that, Baron worked in the resident daily Pentagon press corps as a reporter/photographer for Stars and Stripes. For three years with Stripes, Baron covered the building and traveled overseas extensively with the secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, covering official visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East and Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, in more than a dozen countries. From 2004 to 2009, Baron was the Boston Globe Washington bureau's investigative projects reporter, covering defense, international affairs, lobbying and other issues. Before that, he muckraked at the Center for Public Integrity. Baron has reported on assignment from Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, the Middle East and the South Pacific. He was won two Polk Awards, among other honors. He has a B.A. in international studies from the University of Richmond and M.A. in media and public affairs from George Washington University. Originally from Orlando, Fla., Baron has lived in the Washington area since 1998 and currently resides in Northern Virginia with his wife, three sons, and the family dog, The Edge.| The E-Ring |