Cutting the US defense budget

As the military currently shares approximately 20% of the country’s overall budget, cutting here would tremendously impact the nation’s economic health.

US General Martin Dempsey 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US General Martin Dempsey 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With Congress debating on how to tackle rising national debt, they would be wise to analyze the massive Department of Defense budget. As America currently spends more than the top ten nations in the world combined in military expenditures, there is ample room for careful changes to be made. To be clear, America’s military superiority must be maintained. However, there are plenty of areas in this budget that can be trimmed without impacting national security. The Joint Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey has repeatedly argued that solving the national debt crisis is in America’s national security interest, and therefore the threat should be analyzed with the same aggressiveness as debating how to prevent a nuclear Iran. As the military currently shares approximately 20 percent of the country’s overall budget, cutting here would tremendously impact the nation’s economic health.
A unique benefit reserved to the military in the federal government is the DOD schools on military bases. Closing the 66 schools and having military families send their children to the district public schools will save 10 billion dollars according to a New York Times projection. Many of the DOD schools are in terrible condition. Although opponents will argue that cutting one of these special benefits to military families will affect recruiting, one also has to consider that most Americans are not experiencing the same economic wealth that they earned before the latest recession. Therefore, the military, while still receiving fair pay and benefits should share the burden as the rest of the nation so the money is not taken away from the sick and elderly in Medicare or Medicaid programs.
Furthermore, President Barack Obama has declared an interest in reducing nuclear weapons in the military’s arsenal. Given that America already has the capabilities to launch nuclear strikes by land and via submarines, eliminating nuclear weapons from bomber aircraft will cut $39 billion from the budget. America has not used nuclear weapons since 1945 and the odds of the military using them again are low. Land and naval capabilities for nuclear weapons are more than sufficient. Additionally, because Europe has remained stable for the past decades without any direct threat to America’s security, it would also be wise to reduce military personnel on the continent from 150,000 to 100,000. There is no reason in the 21st century why Europe, especially with Germany’s bustling economy, cannot provide for its own defense. This reduction would lead to approximately $35 billion in savings. One should resist cutting in military space programs to maintain America’s superiority in this arena in addition to preserving funding for next generation long range surveillance and strike capabilities. Also, undersea warfare systems should be protected and science research should be maintained or even increased. These “crown jewels” are essential in fighting terrorism in non-conventional settings and help preserve America’s technological advantage.
Over the long term, it will be necessary to examine DOD’s budget with the same level of scrutiny as elsewhere in the federal government. If Congress required that the department pass an independent audit, experts contend that the budget will save $25 billion over the next decade. Furthermore, civilian employees could easily do many jobs in the military performed by soldiers such as in the supply, communication, and transportation sectors. The soldiers receive extensive benefits and higher pay than in the private sector. If the military would replace the 88,000 soldiers in these jobs with civilian employees who would receive less compensation, approximately $53 billion will be saved. Since 2009, the Pentagon’s civilian employees have risen by 10% with a total of 800,000 workers. Elsewhere in the private sector, because of the recession, workers have been cut drastically. Since the number of uniformed personnel in the military is declining following reductions, it is logical to reduce the Pentagon civilian workforce to 630,000 employees over the next decade. Most of these reductions would come through attrition and this measure would save the department $73 billion.
Unfortunately for political purposes, the Department of Defense budget has been deemed holy as few Congressmen are willing to advocate cutting jobs or bases in their own districts. Nonetheless, the purpose of the Department of Defense is to protect American citizens from military attack, and not act as a economic equalizer for the nation. The DoD costs to our nation are too large to be continuously ignored.
The author is an MA candidate at Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies.