Conservative Leaders: “A Weaker, Cheaper Military Will Not Solve Our Financial Woes”

Dec 21, 2010
Defense Drumbeat
House Armed Services Committee Leaders Urge Federal Debt Commission to Heed Report by the bipartisan QDR Independent Panel

Washington, D.C. (October 6, 2010)—The leaders of three conservative public policy groups recently penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that defense spending is not the cause for the nation’s soaring deficits and is not “an appropriate target for indiscriminate budget-slashing in a still-dangerous world.”  Instead, they argue that the government’s investment in defense, which only accounts for 4.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, is not “an appropriate target for indiscriminate budget-slashing in a still-dangerous world.”

Written by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute; Edwin J. Feulner, president of the Heritage Foundation; and William Kristol, a director of the Foreign Policy Initiative; the op-ed makes the following key points:


  • …“It is encouraging to see Mr. Obama concerned about deficits and debt. But his concern with the military is largely misplaced. It is neither the true source of our fiscal woes, nor an appropriate target for indiscriminate budget-slashing in a still-dangerous world…
  • …“Even with the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, this year the Department of Defense will spend some $720 billion—about 4.9% of our gross domestic product, significantly below the average of 6.5% since World War II…
  • …“Furthermore, military spending is not a net drain on our economy. It is unrealistic to imagine a return to long-term prosperity if we face instability around the globe because of a hollowed-out U.S. military lacking the size and strength to defend American interests around the world...
  • …“We have not done enough to help our military preserve the peace and deter (and if necessary, defeat) our enemies. Americans have fought superbly in Iraq and Afghanistan, and have prevented any further terrorist attacks on the scale of 9/11. But faced with a nuclear Iran, or a Chinese People's Liberation Army that can deny access to U.S. ships or aircraft in the Asian-Pacific region, there are many missions ahead.
  • “Yet we face those challenges with a baseline defense budget—defense spending minus the cost of the wars—that is 3.6% of GDP, significantly less than the Reagan-era peak of 6.2%. Our active-duty military is two-thirds its size in the 1980s. The number of ships, helicopters, fighters, strategic bombers and other combat vehicles is declining. Much of what remains in service is decades old and in need of replacement.
  • “The recent report of the Independent Quadrennial Defense Review Panel—a bipartisan body headed by William Perry, secretary of Defense in the Clinton administration, and Stephen Hadley, national security adviser to George W. Bush—described our military decline as a looming ‘train wreck.’ The panel concluded that, at a minimum, it was necessary to retain current land forces, accelerate Air Force modernization, and perhaps most urgently, halt and reverse the shrinking of the Navy. Meeting these requirements ‘will require a substantial and immediate additional investment that is sustained through the long term.
  • “Congress can make a difference here by insisting that the Obama administration endorse responsible defense budgets instead of throwing our money down the well of entitlement expansion. Just as important, political leaders can make the case for military strength key to an overall strategy of American leadership…”
This op-ed arrives as the President’s “National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform” is assessing America’s current fiscal situation and is expected to recommend steps that should be taken in order to reduce our federal deficit and improve our country’s long-term fiscal health.  On September 2, 2010, Chairman Ike Skelton and Ranking Member Buck McKeon of the House Armed Services Committee sent a letter to the commission’s co-chairmen requesting that they consider the recommendations of the bipartisan independent panel created to review the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

A portion of the letter, which is linked here, states: “While the QDR IP report covered a vast array of issues facing the Department of Defense, we think the report’s consensus findings and recommendations addressing the adequacy of the defense budget are relevant to the work of your commission, including the necessity of recapitalizing and modernizing the weapons and equipment inventory of the military; the need to reform Department’s dysfunctional procurement system; and bold ideas to stem rising health care costs.”

The letter concludes: “It appears your commission will complete its work amidst calls for real cuts in defense spending—and a willingness by some on both sides of the aisle to consider it. In our view, the QDR IP has offered a strong counterargument—a bipartisan group of respected national security experts who all agree, as Secretary Perry recently told the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and House, that identifying savings and efficiencies in the defense budget is necessary, but not sufficient to meet our nation’s future national security priorities. This is a view we think you and your fellow commissioners should consider.”

111th Congress