As predicted several months ago the Obama administration is cutting military manpower—soldiers and Marines in order to cut defense costs. What is unique about this budget cutting is that they are trying to say that it is justified by a new strategy. The new strategy allegedly is designed to confront the threat of terrorism, nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Iran, turmoil in the Middle East, rising powers, cyber-attacks and China’s increasing power. To support the strategy Secretary of Defense Panetta made several points:
- The United States military will be smaller and leaner. The force will be agile and flexible, rapidly deployable, and technologically advanced—reliance on special operating forces is what this statement is based on.
- The US will enhance its presence in Asia Pacific and the Middle East—but with reduced ground forces the reliance will be on air and naval assets. Our ability to intervene with ground forces will be reduced. The presence of forces in Kuwait is the only capability to protect Saudi Arabia and counter Iran.
- The US will maintain a robust presence in Europe and elsewhere in the world by investing in existing alliances. In other words—the broke European countries need to do more—this is unrealistic. While reducing US presence in Europe by two brigades the administration pledged a Brigade sized force to support the NATO rapid reaction force.
- The US will ensure that it can quickly confront and defeat aggression from any adversary, any time, any place. Avoiding the 2 or 2 ½ war capability the argument is that the US will have the capability to deal with more than one adversary at a time. At best this is a hollow argument unless one is talking about the use of air power or Special Forces.
- The US will only cut critical programs and protect and prioritize key investments key investments in technology and new capabilities from special operations forces to cyber and space and unmanned systems, as well as a capacity to surge, adapt and grow as needed. That means the US will maintain a strong National Guard and a strong Reserve and a strong economic base. Reliance on the National Guard and the reserves is much less expensive than active forces.
In addition to these strategy revisions the Associated Press reports that the administration is considering huge reductions to the strategic nuclear forces. To get Republicans to support START ratification the President pledged nuclear warhead modernization and to maintain the arsenal—did he forget his pledge? Obviously, a huge reduction in the nuclear arsenal so that China has more strategic warheads than the US runs counter to the focus on China.
What is totally lacking is any consideration of Russian expansionism. What will North Korea do once it has consolidated power?
In short this strategy is an empty attempt to justify defense spending reductions. The strategy does not relate to the threat. There are other unique items in the defense budget, to include means testing for medical benefits for active and retired military. These will be subject of future articles.