Defense Media Network

Rewriting the 2011 Defense Budget: Thomas Donnelly

Resident Fellow and Director of the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute

Earlier in the year, as part of the article that details the 2011 Department of Defense Authorization Bill, which was signed into law Jan. 7, 2011, we asked a select group of people how they would rewrite the current defense budget, with an eye toward the cuts everyone expects are just over the horizon. While we didn’t immediately run these sidebars with the online reprint of the budget piece, we are sharing them now because of their interest in light of current events and future budgets.

Thomas Donnelly: To begin with, it would be bigger, and it would be in rough measure more of the same, but not more of everything. There are some capabilities that I think are being somewhat shortchanged by the current reckoning.

I would begin with the size of the land forces, the Army in particular. Even if one accepts that the commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t going to be as big tomorrow as today – although in aggregate, it’s about the same, except that more people are in Afghanistan instead of in Iraq – I, for one, find it hard to believe that the overall strategic situation will change so profoundly that the land force commitment to the Middle East, broadly speaking, is really going to substantially abate. We’ve been beating the stuffing out of the force up to this point, and just because we haven’t driven it off the cliff entirely, that doesn’t mean that there still isn’t a cliff out there. When you see things like the tripled suicide rates and other indicators of personal, family, and other kinds of stress, particularly in the Army, and the fact that we’ve employed the Reserve component for a long time at a level that we never anticipated, I think we’re out of whack in terms of having a sufficient force to sustain the foreseeable level of activity. It’s a long-term problem that took a long time to create and really hasn’t been fixed.

There’s a whole raft of capabilities that would be applicable to our posture in the Asian Pacific [region] … and I would also subsume missile defense under that. If Iran is going to have even a relatively small nuclear arsenal, it’s going to scare the pants off of everybody within range. So we, I think, are probably behind the curve on that.

There are some things I’d be willing to toss over the side. I’m not really anxious to build too many more large-deck aircraft carriers, for example. I’d probably like to build a lot more submarines and small surface. When you rack it and stack it, it’s a different force with different emphasis, but it would be a larger force any way you look at it.

I don’t think the defense budget is where the government needs to begin addressing our deficit problem. Nationwide, the entitlement issue is like a macro version of the personnel costs within the pie of the DoD budget; it’s going to eat everything in sight. If you add all our entitlements together – Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, prescription drug benefits, income security, all the rest of it – it’s something like 52 percent of all federal spending. And it’s spending that doesn’t require a vote of Congress. Something has to happen in order to even slow it down. Even if you’re willing to wait a few years to bring the federal budget back into balance, and then start thinking about the long-term debt problem, you’d have to zero out the Pentagon twice in order to wipe out this year’s deficit. So there has to be a conversation about what our priorities are.

This text first appeared in The Year in Defense, 2010 Review, Winter 2011 Edition.


Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...