Washington is abuzz with budget talk and military officials are skittishly preparing for potential cuts to defense spending, but the proposed plans to do so are not expected to reduce the capacities of the Pentagon or military in any measurable way.
The most likely plan put forth by the so-called Gang of Six proposes to cut $800 billion to defense – double the number Obama initially suggested – over the next decade. Other pitches, like Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.), go as far as $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade. This has the Pentagon bracing for possible cuts to, for example, the Navy’s next-generation ballistic-missile submarine, or the Air Force’s new futuristic long-range bomber, or for the Army to drop to a measly 520,000 active duty members from 569,000 within five years (or even more outlandish manifestations of military domination).
But for FY 2012 alone the Defense Department’s budget is slated to be $676 billion and current total military spending has swelled to its highest level, adjusted for inflation, since World War II. Furthermore, these proposed cuts represent merely reductions in projected spending and would allow the Pentagon’s budget to continue to grow at about the rate of inflation. At present, two years military spending exceeds any proposed cuts over the next ten years.
The proposed cuts to military spending, a part of the budget which has been traditionally off-limits, are mostly political grandstanding. A new analysis from Todd Harrison, from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says that while the source of growth in annual defense budgets since 2001 has been mostly (54%) due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, much of the rest has been spent on wasteful superfluous weapons technology, bloated salaries and benefits plans, and expensive peacetime operating costs for the 900 plus military bases in 130 plus countries around the world.
Cutting defense spending more drastically is not without political support: about half of Americans – a plurality by a large margin – think deep cuts can be made at no significant security risk. Indeed, the amount of savings from proposals like Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s – to bring all overseas troops home and end all of America’s unnecessary wars – seems politically palatable too, as Paul has attracted more campaign donations from military families than any other candidate from either party.
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