Debate Magazine

America’s Role and the Risk of Defense Cut

Posted on the 31 January 2011 by Shahalexander
American foreign policy faces multiple challenges, and policymakers are exploring post 9-11 security road maps. In addition to terrorism, new issues such as reemergence of Russia and China, non-proliferation and so forth, are growing more and more critical under the Obama administration. Shortly after the midterm elections, President Barack Obama attended NATO summit in Lisbon in order to discuss new security concepts with European allies to manage global security problems. Meanwhile, recent North Korean attack to Yeongpyeong Island of South Korea has brought a vital fact home to us that how indispensable American military preeminence is to global security. Should US defense power be cut prematurely in the name of new security vision, and should we even be willing to accept a multipolar world and American decline as liberals and doves say?
Security issues are increasingly intertwined with socio-economic aspects today, unlike straightforward Communism containment during the Cold War era. Therefore, the Quadrennial Defense Review, published by the United States Institute for Peace last December, recommends “the U.S. government must adopt a comprehensive approach to its national security mission, creating partnerships among multiple federal agencies as well as state and local governments, private industry, allies, international organizations, indigenous elements, and the American people.” The QDR also advised to remove sectional barriers among the federal government (“Security Can’t Stop with DoD”; Defense News; December 20, 2010).
Despite such compelling challenges, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen announced military budget cut on January 6. In view of fiscal duress, Gates says that defense spending is no exception. Massive spending reduction is expected in the Army and Marine Corps after 2015 when the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan (”Defense budget: to cut $100 billion, Army and Marines will shrink”; Christian Science Monitor; January 6, 2011). Amphibious landing-crafts for Marine Corps will be canceled (“Gates wants to drop $14 billion Marine landing-craft program”; Washington Post; January 5, 2011). Also, the purchase order of F-35B V/STOL fighters for Marine Corps will be suspended (“JSF Tests Slips Again, Purchase to Be Slashed”; Aviation Week; January 11, 2011), because British Prime Minister David Cameron decided to introduce less-expensive and longer-range F-35C carrier variants for forthcoming Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers (“Cameron: UK to swap JSFs to carrier variant, axe Harrier and Nimrod”; Flightglobal; 19 October, 2010). While cutting expenditures for costly equipments, Secretary Gates pledged more spending on unmanned aircrafts and sea crafts, and long range bombers.
Regarding the defense spending cut, Thomas Mahnken, Visiting Scholar at the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University, insists that US defense spending must not be reduced for the sake of efficiency. Mahnken agrees to Gates’s plan to postpone F-35B, and cancel costly arsenals like Army’s new surface to air missiles and Marine Corps fighting vehicles. On the other hand, he argues that further modernization such as next generation bombers and Virginia class attack submarines are necessary to deter China’s military ambition in the Western Pacific (“Gates's defense cuts: A glass half full -- but also half empty”; Shadow Government—Foreign Policy Blog; January 7, 2010).
The defense spending plan is not just an issue of fiscal austerity and military demand. Also, US defense policy needs to go along with those of key democratic allies. At NATO summit in Lisbon on November 19 and 20, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the New Security Concept toward more global, inclusive, and efficient organization to tackle post 9-11 world security. New problems such as missile proliferation and cyber attacks are key issues. Regarding counter-insurgency strategy, NATO will establish civilian sectors to help reconstruction of local societies and improvement of local security force, in view of experience in Afghanistan. For the first step, NATO trains the Afghan government, armed forces, and police, before transferring security responsibility in 2014. Also, Secretary General Rasmussen and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared to renew to mutual relations to develop cooperation on terrorism, piracy, and Afghan security. Moreover, Rasmussen even said that NATO would discuss territorial missile defense with Russia, which was a hurdle to reset US-Russian relations before the Obama-Medvedev meeting in Moscow (”Summit meetings of Heads of State and Government”; NATO Newsroom; 19 November ~ 20 November, 2010). Full text of the New Security Concept is shown here.
The Obama administration moves toward cooperation with challenging great powers, but should America accept multi-polarity so recklessly? Let me mention a presentation of an overview of US foreign policy by Senator John McCain at the Foreign Policy Initiative on November 15. Regarding the Pearl Necklace strategy of China, McCain said security partnership with Pacific and Indian Ocean nations was necessary to prevent deadly conflicts with China. Also, McCain said that free trade agreements with Asia would bolster American political presence in the region. Russia may not be able to reignite the Cold War, but Kremlin autocracy will make clashes with the West inevitable. As to Iran, McCain criticized Obama for lukewarm approaches to support democracy movements during the last Iranian presidential election. Senator McCain shows understandings of the Gates plan to cut costs, but he firmly insists that America’s role for global security not be diminished.
Currently, the most critical challenge to a liberal world order of Pax Americana is the “peaceful rise” of China. While the American side is alarmed with rapid military build up of China, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie gave little consideration to this when US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates talked with him. China’s impatience to take over Taiwan threatens America’s Pacific allies such as Japan and Australia (“Can Obama cut the military in the face of a rising China?”; Christian Science Monitor; January 11, 2011). Despite rapid technological development like stealth fighter, U.S. intelligence lacks concrete information about China's military changes (“Defense Secretary Gates: U.S. underestimated parts of China's military modernization”; Washington Post; January 9, 2011). Experts say that the new stealth fighter called J-20 does not seem to match US counterpart F-22, because its engine systems are less compatible with stealth technology than those of American ones (“Chinese J-20 Stealth Fighter In Taxi Tests”; Aviation Week; January 3, 2011). Even though, China reveals its own ambition to defy American hegemony.
In view of resurgent challenges including China, conservatives and neoconservatives raise critical concerns to defense cut by the Obama administration. Arthur Herman, a historian, warns that unilateral defense drawback under President Obama and Secretary Gates is inappropriate when America is fighting wars and new threats are growing. Herman says it is not a peace time now, unlike shortly after World War Ⅱ and the Cold War. Though he agrees that US armed forces be modernized and cost-effective, he insists that they must be big enough to deter expansionism of Russia and China. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan is no reason for premature defense cut (The Re-Hollowing of the Military”; Commentary; September 2010). Furthermore, Herman argues that military spending is the best economic stimulus (“Don't Let O Disarm Our Military”; New York Post; January 10, 2011). Considering technological spin-off effects, I agree with him. Knowledge is our advantage over cheap labor emerging economies.
Today, US defense expenditure accounts for merely 3.8% of GDP, if purely operational war costs are subtracted. This is just 2/3 of traditional peace time outlays of 5.7%. Even if war costs are included, the total defense spending is only 4.6% of GDP (“America's Dangerous Rush to Shrink Its Military Power”; Wall Street Journal; December 27, 2010). Thomas Donnelly, Resident Fellow, and Gary Schmitt, Resident Scholar, both at the American Enterprise Institute, criticizes the Obama administration’s attitude to talk of defense spending in the same way as cutting inefficient expenditure in education. They insist that America’s role in the world must not be diminished in the name of budget efficiency (“Slashing Pentagon Spending Isn't the Same as Cutting Education Funding”; Washington Examiner; December 7, 2010).
At the panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on December 28, Senior Fellow Robert Kagan mentioned the fundamental point why defense cut for the deficit reduction would damage America’s national interest. American economic prosperity is guaranteed under a liberal world order protected by its own military strength. Kagan says that premature defense cut will lead to the same isolationist mistake as committed during the interwar period. See the video below.
In conclusion, let me quote a tweet by Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton. At time of war and growing security threats abroad, Secretary Gates's proposed defense cuts would make the US less secure and able to defend itself.

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