In Defense of Defense Spending

Article excerpt

CHARLES V. PENA'S "A REALITY CHECK on Military Spending" (Issues, Summer 2005) falls short of confronting the broad challenge of how the United States might best engage on the issues of global security. His approach seems almost to be a casual excuse for cutting the budget: settle for playing the role of a "balancer of last resort" and let others "take greater responsibility for their own regional security."

His defense budget strategy would not create an alternative paradigm for security that the rest of the world could live with. His abrupt reduction of U.S. forces and overseas deployments would only result in eventual challenges to U.S. security, with no institutions or capabilities in check to counter them, ensuring regional and global security chaos.

Three pieces are missing from Pena's vision. The first involves the need to put in place a regional and global security architecture that would ensure stability, peaceful transitions, and the ability to confront danger, allowing the United States to play a more restrained role. European militaries are working toward, but still fall short of, assuming a security role that could eliminate the need for U.S. forces.

Africa lacks the institutions and capabilities to ensure regional security and will need considerable outside help. There is no Middle Eastern or north or Southeast Asian security arrangement like NATO, and only a few bilateral agreements in which the United States plays a role (such as with Australia, South Korea, and Thailand). Taiwan has no other security guarantor but the United States and will not accept a regional alternative.

Second, Pena comes up short in describing what the U.S. military's role should be in dealing with the major global challenges that the United States and others face: terror, proliferation, and instability in failed states. U.S. forces are poorly trained for these missions, yet as Pena recognizes, they are missions for which forces are needed. Here he contradicts himself--these missions are global in scope, not purely regional, but he wants U.S. forces to withdraw from a global presence.

Third, Pena leaves undiscussed how the entire tool kit of statecraft and allied relationships might be used to deal with the security dilemmas the world faces today, dilemmas that underlie terror and proliferation: the global poverty gap; the need for stable, effective, and responsive governance in vast regions of the globe; the raging conflicts of ethnicity and belief that inflame current tensions; and achieving an affordable, secure energy supply.


Pena collapses one security tool--the military--but offers no security vision that addresses these dilemmas with an integrated set of other tools: foreign assistance, diplomacy, public diplomacy, and allied cooperation. Without such an integrated strategy, eliminating the U.S. military just pours fuel on the fire.


Director, Security Policy Studies

Elliott School of International Affairs

The George Washington University

Washington, DC

CHARLES V. PENA NOTES, correctly, that "ever-increasing defense spending is being justified as necessary to fight the war on terrorism." Then, however, instead of trying to correct that erroneous justification, he falls into the common trap of wanting to design the U.S.'s armed forces to meet only that most imminent of threats to U.S. and allies' national security without regard to other long-term risks to that security and the military requirements for sustaining it. His article consequently contains some serious errors in strategic reasoning as well as some technically incorrect statements about military systems currently in acquisition.

To deal with the latter first:

Pena says that the F-15 Eagle is not challengeable by any potential adversary. However, the Russian Sukhoi Su-30 has similar performance, with the additional maneuverability advantage of vectored thrust, so that superiority in air combat against such aircraft will depend to a great extent on pilot proficiency, tactics, and the quality of the air-to-air weapons, in which the United States will not necessarily be superior. …