If Wars Are Ending, Why Is the Pentagon's Budget Growing?
March 1, 2014
Friends Committee on National Legislation & Zack Beauchamp / Think Progress
Thirteen years of war are drawing to a close -- but you wouldn't know it from the Pentagon budget Secretary Hagel laid out on Monday. For all the headlines about a shrinking Army (part of a 6 percent decrease in overall force structure), Secretary Hagel actually proposed spending more than allowed by current law.
Wars Are Ending but the Pentagon Budget Is Growing?
Friends Committee on National Legislation
(February 28, 2014) -- Thirteen years of war are drawing to a close -- but you wouldn't know it from the Pentagon budget Secretary Hagel laid out on Monday. For all the headlines about a shrinking Army (part of a 6 percent decrease in overall force structure), Secretary Hagel actually proposed spending more than allowed by current law.
Shifting the military's focus away from large-scale troop deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq has the potential to save both lives and treasure. But only if it doesn't shift to anything else. If, as seems likely, the Pentagon instead expands military action in Africa and takes on cyber attacks from China, the savings from scaling down in the greater Middle East will go unrecognized.
The increases in Secretary Hagel's proposed budget suggest that the U.S. is ramping up for more war around the world.
This budget doesn't reflect peacetime: It reflects endless war.
The Wars Are Ending, Why Is the Pentagon Still Wanting More Money?
Tila Neguse and Jim Cason / Friends Committee on National Legislation
(February 28, 2014) -- We were glad to hear Secretary of Defense Hagel recognize this week that with the war in Afghanistan winding down, the US needs to cut back the size of our military to 440,000-450,000 -- more or less the same U.S. troop size before WWII. We can and must support those individuals who have served our country in the past, but the administration and Congress can do a great deal to keep from putting more of our young people in harm's way.
Congress and the administration have more work to do in the coming months and years to bring down Pentagon spending and redirect funds toward other priorities of our nation. For starters, members of Congress should declare immediately that they will not accept the proposals from Secretary Hagel for new increases in Pentagon spending over the next five years.
Secretary Hagel's 5-year plan refuses to accept the reality of sequestration and proposes $115 billion in spending over the caps. We are no longer a nation at war and have yet to realize the savings that reflect such. Even if the entirety of sequestration had been left in place, by 2021, the Pentagon would still be spending about as much as it did during the height of the Cold War.
Congress also has a tough job ahead, as Secretary Hagel noted when he pleaded with lawmakers to accept a future round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2017. Congress has blocked every Pentagon effort to eliminate excess base capacity through a BRAC commission for many years. The most recent 2005 BRAC round had high up-front costs that did not match the savings.
The good news is that there are federal funds available to help communities impacted by BRAC. The DoD's own Office of Economic Adjustment provides financial and technical assistance to communities to aid in the transition. A BRAC in 2017, if modeled off pre-2005 BRACs, could close unused and unnecessary infrastructure and yield long-term savings in the future.
After over a decade of costly wars, the nation needs major reductions in Pentagon spending not new increases. Yesterday, Secretary Hagel began to address some of the difficult fiscal issues facing the Pentagon. As he put it, implementing some of these reforms "will require Congress to partner with the Department of Defense in making politically difficult choices."
That's just it. Congress and the Pentagon have choices and both should exercise their options by reviewing the Pentagon's spending practices and determining whether those practices serve the nation's actual needs.
5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be Scared
By The Plan To Downsize The Army
Zack Beauchamp / Think Progress
(February 24, 2014) -- On Monday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a sweeping plan for defense policy reform, including a plank that would shrink US Army active duty personnel to what the New York Times called "pre-World War II levels." That sounds scary to a lot of people, including House Homeland Security Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-TX), who told Fox News that American security was "being sacrificed . . . on the altar of entitlements."
But that's wrong. If Hagel's plan makes it through Congress, it would represent a long overdue fix to America's post-9/11 over-correction. Here's five reasons why cutting the US Army down to size won't threaten American security -- or the world's.
1. The Army isn't really going to pre-World War II levels.
From the headlines, you might think that the American army is shrinking to the level it was at when post-World War I isolationism carried the day. Not so: in fact, we'd be returning to a troop level higher than it was in the early days of World War II.
The 440,000-450,000 number of troops on active duty Hagel proposes is above the 426,000 troops that were in the Army by the end of 1940 -- and well above the 280,000 it began that year with. That matters because, by the end of 1940, President Roosevelt and the Pentagon had begun a significant ramp-up designed to prepare America for involvement in the European and/or Asian theaters of history's deadliest conflict. "By the time of Pearl Harbor," an official US army publication explains, "Congress had spent more for Army procurement than it had for the Army and the Navy during all of World War I."
A return to pre-WWII isolationism this isn't.
2. We need them less, because there's less war.
Accuracy aside, the comparison to World War II is ridiculous on a deeper level: we're not actually fighting World War II anymore. There's no global conflict ongoing, nor is there one on the horizon. In fact, over the past several centuries -- and particularly over the past 70 years -- war casualties have declined precipitously. This chart of battle deaths per 100,000 people tells you everything you need to know: [Click here to view Wall Street Journal chart.]
Moreover, the kind of war you really worry about if you're an American war planner -- wars with another state, like China or Iran -- are practically extinct. "Since the end of the Second World War, the number of ongoing interstate conflicts involving at least 25 battle casualties has ranged from zero to six," war scholars Christian Davenport and Scott Gates write. "Moreover, the trend has been one of decline:" from 2003-2008, there wasn't a single interstate war.
In short: we live in the safest time in human history. Hagel's plan to limit (not end) America's ability to fight two wars at once is hardly out of line.
3. But also because the Cold War is over.
The 50 years between 1939 and 1989 were dominated by the threat of fascist world domination and then, subsequently, the risk of nuclear war between superpowers. Neither of those are particularly plausible anymore, nor has any other ideological or security challenge risen to replace them. The United States and its liberal-democratic allies unquestionably lead the world both militarily and ideologically.
This is both a cause and a consequence of the world's unprecedented stability. Cause, in the sense that the American alliance's military dominance deters great power war. Consequence, in that the spread of democracy, capitalism, and international institutions make war less likely and less deadly.
The global order works so well, in fact, that even rising states like China are more interested in working inside the existing world order than radically transforming it (though even if China wanted to, it couldn't).
We live in a time, as Michael Cohen and Micah Zenko put it, of "clear and present safety." We don't depend on an oversized US Army for security anymore.
4. Don't forget science!
Military strength isn't determined by troop numbers alone. American military superiority is underpinned by technology, alliances, and basing; the United States and its allies make up three-quarters of global military spending, and the United States alone has bases in the same percentage of countries worldwide.
According to, respectively, the Pentagon and a cross-ideological consensus report, both basing and military spending could be cut without any meaningful harm done to US security. So even if you think global peace depends on the force of American arms alone, there's no reason to think cuts to the size of the Army should matter terribly much.
There's also another important technology that separates today from the bad old days: the bomb. America's nuclear stockpile means that, even if the regular military shrank enormously, no rational opponent would pick a fight with the US
5. Finally, the things that are actually problems aren't really solveable with lots of troops.
There are certainly some distinctively 21st century security challenges: climate change, most importantly, but also transnational terrorism and nuclear-armed rogue states. But these aren't the sorts of threats large armies are good at solving.
Climate change is a political/humanitarian problem, not something that Army artillery shells can pummel into oblivion. America's track record in using ground invasions to address terrorism and rogue states since 9/11 has been pretty shoddy, to say the least.
Indeed, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars point to the real virtue of Hagel's plan. Since 9/11, we've overspent massively on defense and homeland security -- arguably playing into al-Qaeda's hands. It's time we recognized that throwing money at the Army isn't a substitute for clear thinking about the threats, or lack thereof, to American and global security.
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