Gutting Defense

Article excerpt


In 1938, a British backbencher published a book titled While England Slept. The book was notable for its stinging criticism of Britain's Conservative Party government; and, remarkably, it was written by a fellow Conservative Party member. Less surprising, given his track record as an author, soldier, analyst and leader, the member's name was Winston Churchill.

Churchill was dismayed and alarmed by his government's failure to arm Britain in the face of an unprecedented Nazi German arms buildup. Alone, he warned of the threat posed by a revanchist, Nazi-led Germany, primed and ready for war.

There is today no comparable nation-state preparing to challenge America and the Free World. Still, the military threat today is equally real and dangerous - and growing. The threat today comes from a transnational network of terrorists and extremists intent on destroying nation-states and destabilizing the world.

As the U.S. Army explained in its 2008 Posture Statement to Congress, "Persistent conflict and change characterize the strategic environment. ... Expect a future of protracted confrontation among state, nonstate, and individual actors who will use violence to achieve political,

religious, and other ideological ends ... Highly adaptive and intelligent adversaries [will] exploit technology, information, and cultural differences to threaten US. interests."

Unfortunately for Americans high on change, and eager to take a holiday from history, this dangerous situation is not about to change anytime soon. To the contrary: all indications are that this terrorist threat will intensify in the years and decades to come. Terrorist states like Iran, Syria and North Korea will ensure that is the case, as will third-rate dictators like Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

And the world's worsening economic crisis will exacerbate this problem by giving extremists new rationales for their failures and new excuses for violence.

Yet, in the face of this growing threat - and even as it dramatically increases domestic social spending in a so-called stimulus package - the Obama administration is ordering the Defense Department to significantly scale back weapons procurement modernization.

Indeed, published press accounts report that the U.S. military has been instructed to reduce its budget request by more than $50 billion. As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, has explained, this necessarily means that weapons procurement modernization will suffer the budget ax. Personnel costs, after all, are fixed and growing, and current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan must continue to be funded. That leaves only one area, essentially, to cut: weapons procurement modernization.

The one thing we have known for many months is that the spigot of defense spending that opened on Sept. 11 is closing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress last month. With two major campaigns ongoing, the economic crisis and resulting budget pressures will force hard choices on this department.

But why should the Defense Department be the only government agency asked to cut spending? Does this make sense, especially at a time of war?

Military Requirements: Antiquated Army combat vehicles, which use 1970s-era industrial-age design technology, are being blown to smithereens in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army requires new vehicles designed for this new information age and this new era of asymmetric warfare.

Air Force planes perform crucial reconnaissance and surveillance missions in theater. But these aircraft are overused and overtaxed; they sometimes fall, quite literally, out of the sky due to age and duress. …