The Cold War Takes a Hit

The war that ended 20 years ago has lived on in a menu of weapons systems we have continued to develop, modify, and build at ever increasing cost, if not utility, since then. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement of significant cuts in several of those systems signals that in a new administration and a severe fiscal crisis, this Cold War legacy may finally be winding down.

In his speech last month to a joint session of Congress, President Barack Obama promised to “reform our defense budget so that we’re not paying for Cold War-era systems we don’t use.” This budget makes a down-payment on that promise. It proposes the most ambitious set of cuts to well-entrenched weapons systems since the early ‘90s.

Among its targets:

  • the F-22 fighter jet, which the most impressive PR campaign in history couldn’t save;
  • the DDG-1000 Destroyer, which the Navy tried to cancel last year;
  • Future Combat Systems, which is lurching and straining under the weight of its enormous complication, unproven technology, and massive $150 billion pricetag.

At the same time, this budget perpetuates the overall upward trajectory of defense spending. Though Gates has been promising that “the spigot of defense spending after 9-11 is closing,” this budget exceeds all of the Bush administration’s budgets that preceded it. And it leaves barreling through the pipeline such unneeded programs as the Virginia Class submarine and the V-22 Osprey, which then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney tried to kill in 1992.

The Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States (USB) outlined a set of $60.7 billion in reductions to the FY2009 defense budget, and made the case for why these cuts could be made with no sacrifice to our security. Here is how the Secretary’s budget stacks up to those recommendations. To see the chart, please refer to our Foreign Policy In Focus article here.

Thus, the cuts announced today represent a down-payment on the USB recommendations in the amount of between $8 and $10 billion.

It’s a start. The president’s commitments to negotiate a reduction in our nuclear arsenal down to 1000 warheads, and to get serious about acquisition reform, will bring more.

Meanwhile, preserving even these cuts won’t be easy. This tree falling in the forest has made quite a sound, in the form of howls of protest from major contractors echoing through congressional halls even before Gates finished speaking.

Travis Sharp is a military budget analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
Miriam Pemberton is a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a senior analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus.