“Pentagon ‘Cuts’ Really Miss the Point”

The news is leaking out that the Pentagon will be making deep cuts in its 2006 budget for weapons. The cuts appear headed in the right direction: toward scaling back weapons systems that were designed to fight the cold war and have little relevance to the wars we are actually fighting. Calling them “deep cuts,” however, is a stretch. It would be another stretch to believe that there will be anything left over to address important deficits in U.S. security.

Let’s first be clear that these are not cuts at all, at least as we ordinary mortals understand the term. The White House isn’t talking about spending less on the military this year than last. The Bush administration is talking about cutting the increase in spending the Pentagon said last year it was planning for next year.

The overall defense budget will continue to rise. And spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be funded with tens of billions of dollars off the books. Known as “supplemental” spending, these budget bills obscure the real cost of U.S. military operations. Taking this extra money into account, the U.S. spent $460 billion on the military in 2004.

Still, these so-called “cuts” do represent a milestone of sorts. The Pentagon is finally recognizing the need to make choices. Until this year, with few exceptions, the United States has simply tacked money for new weapons on to budget for the Cold War systems already in the pipeline. The 9-11 attacks simply accelerated this practice. The United States currently spends almost 25 percent more on the military than it did before the attacks, not including funds for on the wars the United States is actually fighting.

The combination of the Iraq War, which the United States should never have begun, and tax cuts the nation can’t afford, has forced the administration to slow this surge in the military largesse. The Pentagon’s choices for cuts are mostly wise. A year ago, I co-directed a task force of security experts that produced “A Unified Security Budget for the United States” identifying seven weapons systems that could be canceled or reduced without hurting U.S. security. The administration plans reductions in all of them.

The problem is that the government’s military number crunchers are shaving where they should shear. Our task force explained why the FA-22 fighter jet and the DD(X) destroyer programs are unnecessary and could safely be canceled. The Bush administration merely plans to scale them back slightly.

Most of the “cuts” won’t even happen for several more years. Besides, about a month’s operations in Iraq will eat up the entire proposed savings on military spending in Bush’s budget for next year, about $6 billion.

Meanwhile, critical investments in our security are in danger once again of going begging. In the “Unified Security Budget” report, we argued for rebalancing our security spending priorities to invest more in such non-military tools as diplomacy, economic development aid and international cooperation to curb the spread of dangerous weapons.

This case is gaining broad-based support. One of the 9-11 Commission’s major recommendations called for combating terrorism by increasing investment in the full range of diplomatic, development and humanitarian tools at our disposal.

“Terrorism is not caused by poverty,” the commission’s report said. “Yet when people lose hope, when societies break down, when countries fragment, the breeding grounds for terrorism are created.”

The budget for International Affairs, which funds most of these non-military security tools, represents only about 1 percent of the total U.S. budget. Yet the budget Congress passed at the end of 2004 covering fiscal 2005 failed to fund these programs even at the modest level of the president’s request.

This is no time for such shortsightedness. The extreme human, economic and diplomatic costs of nation-building by military force are on display in Iraq. The benefits of this policy are missing in action. While the administration and Congress begin to reduce unnecessary weapons programs, they must pay equal attention to investing in the non-military tools that are critical to our security.