How the Budget Battle is Hurting U.S. Security

September 4, 2014

Host: The United States Institute of Peace


Ms. Michele Flournoy, Chief Executive, Center for a New American Security

With the advent of nuclear weapons, drones, intercontinental missiles, and other significant military advancements, many experts have posited that the nature of war has fundamentally changed. Gone are the days of prolonged military ground campaigns; the U.S.’s future battles will be fought with precise and tactical strikes – either preformed through small special forces/counter terrorism teams or carried out through unmanned and cyber warfare.

Unfortunately, the events of this past year have shown these expectations to be somewhat premature, as means of conventional warfare have rapidly popped up around the globe. In Syria, the U.S. threatened the use of cruise missiles; in Iraq, a conventional air campaign has proven instrumental in pushing back the Islamic State; in the East China Sea, U.S. destroyers have been positioned off the coast of China in order to deter any regional aggression. With these and other events in mind – such as the rising terrorist threats throughout Africa – Ms. Flournoy believes the U.S. (from a security standpoint) is experiencing its “most complex and volatile period” since WWII.

It is therefore no wonder that the panel of experts who reviewed the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review is now concerned that, largely due to the 2013 sequester and mandatory budget cuts, U.S. military capabilities are being drastically diminished now, and will be hurt even worse in years to come. In the near-term, Ms. Flournoy pointed out that budget cuts have reduced the armed forces readiness capacity by reducing the number of active duty army brigades, limiting the number of combat capable pilots, and canceling preplanned shipping expeditions – many of which she noted would’ve been heading to Persian Gulf and East China Sea. In addition to the immediate damages, budget cuts also threaten to cut funding for important research and development projects revolving around cyber security, long range strike capabilities, and other crucial fields.

This security threat is almost entirely outside of the hands of security experts. Instead, it is up to a Congress that, as Ms. Flournoy noted, is committed to playing politics and is unable to find a balance between security needs and fiscal needs. So far, Congress has been unwilling to grant Defense Secretary Hagel greater powers and flexibility to stagger cuts and appoint them where he sees appropriate. On the other hand, Congress has also rejected his proposed defense cuts, like those made to the A-10’s. This, in Ms. Flournoy’s eyes, is the most damaging predicament the U.S. could be in, where officials are “under-resourcing defense” and “tying our own hands” when it comes to dealing with tough decisions.

Fortunately, it seems that influential member of Congress are beginning to see the dangers when certain policies are put into action. Over the past year, some notable deficit hawks like Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Rand Paul have changed their stances, and are looking for fiscal solutions to alleviate the burden on the armed forces. However, in Ms. Flournoy’s opinion, this cannot be a piecemeal project and a grand budget deal is needed to fully right things. Although it is a politically tough decision, politicians must be willing to support benefits and entitlement reform. In order to be an effective fighting force and ensure national security, the U.S. does not need to adhere to the “two-war construct,” but it must ensure that it can deploy well-trained men and women whenever is needed to protect the nation’s interests. 

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05. September 2014 by Will Houstoun
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