Part of Best Foreign Affairs Web Stories of 2011

How Cutting Pentagon Spending Will Fix U.S. Defense Strategy

Austerity is the Best Possible Auditor

Washington's defense hawks are circling the wagons to defend the Pentagon's budget. The Obama administration has instructed the military to reduce planned spending over the next decade by about $400 billion, or eight percent over time. The Budget Control Act, the culmination of the debt-ceiling standoff this summer, could double those cuts. In response, senior defense officials, congressional committee chairs, and think tanks funded by military contractors have warned that excessive reductions will result in a fighting force that lacks the resources for its missions.

The Pentagon's boosters are right that big cuts will limit military capabilities. But that would actually be a good thing for the United States. Shrinking the U.S. military would not only save a fortune but also encourage policymakers to employ the armed services less promiscuously, keeping American troops -- and the country at large -- out of needless trouble. Especially for the last two decades, the United States' considerable wealth and fortunate geography have made global adventurism seem largely costless. The 2011 U.S. military budget of nearly $700 billion is higher in real terms than at any point during the Cold War. But for the American public (except the members of the military and their families, that is), the only real impact of such spending has been marginally higher taxes, which have lately been subsidized by deficits. As a result, leaders confuse needs and ambitions. Going beyond the demands of the White House and the Budget Control Act and cutting the non-war military budget by at least 20 percent would be a first step toward addressing this problem.

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