Fiscal Cliff 2013: Not Necessarily a Doomsday Scenario For the Military

With the election behind us, let’s strip the politics out of the sesquestration debate and look at facts surrounding this idea of reducing the defense budget.

- It’s being reduced annually from 2013-2023.

- Assuming the cuts are fully implemented, sesquestration only reduces defense spending to 2006 levels – which was the highest defense budget in the history of the world … until the defense budgets of 2007 … 2008 … 2009 … 2010 .…

In short; sufficient money is available for a robust military, but the question lurking under sesquestration is: what will it realistically cost to defend America in the upcoming generation?

“National Security” is a broad term. Defending America can include attacking Afghanistan in retaliation for 9/11 or hauling our citizens out of danger as the Marines in July 2006 when they pulled 17,000 Americans out of Lebanon during the Israel-Hezbollah war- or their standing off the Israeli coast last month in case Americans needed to be evacuated. It also includes the long-term positive effects of providing humanitarian and disaster relief in areas ranging from Haiti to Japan to Staten Island.

The electoral sniping over defense spending ignored the facts that both the Navy and Air Force quietly maintain a huge global superiority with the Navy’s battle tonnage exceeding the battle tonnage of the next 13 countries combined, while the Air Force has a similar advantage. Worth noting is that the last eleven years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that unlimited firepower could not quell an low-tech insurgency; it took a Marine-led COIN strategy of boots-on-the-ground engagement that turned both Anbar and Helmand Provinces.

Lost in the rush to prove one’s patriotism by increasing the defense budget is that the Marines and Army have been ordered to reduce troop strength by 20,000 and 80,000 respectively by 2014; most of those discharged will be their experienced combat veterans – leaving America’s national defense at the mercy of inoperable hi-tech weapons systems years behind schedule and billions of dollars over-budget.

To Defend Against…??

Short Term: Iran                                                                                                                                 Longer Term: China                                                                                                                              Wild-card opponent: the next Bin Laden.

Iran: They are proud of their heritage and will fight if attacked; in the 10-year war with Iraq they viewed Saddam’s invasion as a war of survival, and despite his use of poison gas they fought the Iraqi’s to a standstill.

They’re trying to develop nuclear bombs, but perhaps more important is their homegrown defense industry developing weapons to be used regionally. They copied the Marine-Navy hovercraft and made it a high-speed offensive weapon capable to launching missiles, Iran can temporarily block the Straits of Hormuz and halt oil shipments and the likelihood is that our Navy will lose some expensive ships re-opening it.

China: They’re funding the world’s 2nd largest defense budget in order to dominate the Asian seas. Energy-short China is embroiled in disputes with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan over control of South China Sea and East China Sea islands whose waters are rich in natural gas.

They’re in the midst of a huge naval build-up targeted to projecting power and influence into Asian waters; in October outgoing President Hu made a pointed reference to strengthening China's naval forces to protecting maritime interests in order to "win a local war”- which is how they view the South China Sea.

The Navy needing a rail gun to shell Chinese ships from afar is ludicrous. However the effectiveness of the Marine Rotational Forces-Darwin, coupled with 31st MEU’s reputation in the Pacific Rim for humanitarian-disaster relief work, coupled with such popular multi-lateral Asian exercises such as Cobra Gold, should make the planners take a very hard look at the dubious effectiveness of such expensive programs as the rail gun or the Littoral Combat Ship and instead concentrate on bringing the Gator Navy back to its required strength.

The next Osama: From Yemen? Somalia? Nigeria?

The population in the developing countries is growing exponentially and in many of them the populace is over-educated, under-employed, with the local leaders ranging from Hezbollah-like religious zealots to warlords. As Marine Commandant Gen James Amos said last year “There will be places where clean, potable water will be as valuable as a gallon of fuel.  I believe the world will be full of these nasty, difficult, unclear conflicts that are energized by poverty, by stateless borders and by the proliferation of state-like weapons in the hands of organizations that are not states. These places will be the Marine Corps’ backyard for the next two decades.”

Sesquestration cuts the defense budget across the board; it’s the Pentagon who plans the specific strategies and procures the equipment necessary. Finite budgets provide a tough-love opportunity to plan for the wars that will likely occur instead of the wars the defense contractors hope will occur.

The Navy and Chinese won’t be fighting a 2015 Battle of Midway so the Navy needs ships capable of effectively projecting presence into small Asian ports. The Air Force won’t be carpet-bombing Russia, so they need to plan how to airlift Marines and soldiers quickly into a hot zone. Cutting 10% of the Marine and Army’s combat veterans might address costs tomorrow, but if the money is then spent on more hi-tech programs that take decades to perfect, how has national security been improved if the recent call to evacuate American citizens from Israel had been necessary and the Navy and Marines were unavailable to respond?

Unlimited funding doesn’t build a military capable of defending the United States – but careful planning and honest threat assessment does.