How Much Should We Cut from the Defense Budget?

The Pentagon’s budget probably could be cut by up to $500 billion over 10 years, but dramatic reductions in defense spending beyond that would prevent the military from replacing aging weapons systems and remaining a global superpower, Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, writes in the Washington Post.

“One need not seek out new conflict to see the virtues of a globally engaged and well-equipped American military to help reassure allies, discourage nuclear proliferation and reduce the odds of the outbreak of war,” he says.

O’Hanlon’s piece largely is a counterpoint to one written a day earlier in which Post columnist Fareed Zakaria argues that trimming DOD spending by $600 billion to $700 billion, or more, over the next 10 years is well justified.

The compromise measure raising the nation’s debt ceiling does not include hard-and-fast caps on defense spending, making it difficult to determine the deal’s ultimate impact on the Pentagon’s budget. The White House estimates that the initial round of cuts to discretionary spending will slice $350 billion from the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade. If Congress fails to reduce federal spending by at least $1.2 trillion in the second round, automatic spending cuts of an equivalent amount would be triggered. Those would be shared equally between defense and non-defense programs.

In his response, O’Hanlon points out that about $200 billion, or two-thirds, of the increase in annual defense spending between 2001 and 2009 paid for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And much of the rest, or $100 billion, has covered higher pay and healthcare costs for service members and veterans. That leaves about $50 billion in annual defense spending “that can be scrutinized as potentially excessive for the times in which we live,” he concludes.

“While saving money and becoming more efficient are important, I’d like to keep American military pre-eminence largely as it is,” O’Hanlon said.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen

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