Defense cuts: A threat to national security?

Over the next decade, defense spending will be cut by $350 billion, and by even more, if the terms of the debt ceiling agreement kick in because of a failure to agree on new budget cuts.

America’s national security faces a terrible new threat, said Frank J. Gaffney in National Review. The threat comes not from abroad but from within, in the form of “deep and devastating cuts” to the nation’s defense budget. Under the new debt-ceiling agreement between Congress and President Obama, defense spending will suffer $350 billion in cuts over the next decade. Worse yet, if a congressional “supercommittee” fails to agree on a new round of cuts by next year, then defense will be cut by another $600 billion over 10 years. In future years, the U.S. faces challenges from China, Iran, and North Korea, and history shows that weakening your own defenses “only serves to invite aggression.” In the 1990s, for example, Bill Clinton’s post–Cold War drawdown of forces emboldened the forces of militant Islamism, ultimately leading to 9/11.

Hawks sound these warnings any time the Pentagon faces a budget cut, said Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post. But let’s look at the numbers: Between 2001 and 2009, the defense budget rose by 70 percent, to $699 billion. Even adjusted for inflation, the U.S. is now spending more on defense than it did during the height of the Cold War. We currently “spend more on defense than the planet’s remaining countries put together”—and much of that goes toward supporting the armed forces’ “socialist economy” of cradle-to-grave housing, health care, early retirement, and pensions. Don’t forget the wasteful weapons programs, such as the F-35, said Dominic Tierney in The Atlantic. The military has ordered 2,443 of these supersonic fighter jets, at a total cost of $1 trillion. That’s more than “Australia’s entire GDP.” Spending trillions building a Cold War–style armada won’t help us win the “complex asymmetric wars” of modern times.

No doubt the Pentagon’s budget could use some pruning, said in an editorial. But “making the Pentagon’s budget dependent on factors that have nothing to do with national security”—such as whether a congressional supercommittee can come to an agreement—seems foolish and dangerous. Still, if programs for the poor and the sick can absorb cuts, said Fred Kaplan in, surely the Pentagon can, too. To keep the nation safe, do taxpayers really need to spend $4 billion for two new submarines? Or to maintain and replace 1,550 long-range nuclear missiles? When hawks warn us that “national security” is at stake, it’s time to start “asking for proof.”

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.