The Buzz

Trump Should Cut Pentagon Waste and Craft a New Strategy

Hopefully Trump will do everything in his power to ferret out and reduce Pentagon waste.  But there is another possibility – a huge buildup accompanied by a commitment to cost cutting that is more rhetorical than real.  On the campaign trail, Trump promised to lift the current caps on Pentagon spending; add tens of thousands of troops to the Army and Marines; move rapidly towards a 350-ship Navy; increase the size of the Air Force; double down on the Pentagon’s $1 trillion, three decade plan to purchase and deploy a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines, and missiles; and pump up spending for missile defense.  Trump’s proposals track closely with a long-term spending plan put forward by the Heritage Foundation, which could increase Pentagon spending by up to $1 trillion beyond current projections over the next ten years. He has said that he will offset these new expenditures by cutting waste, but even by the most optimistic estimates there is nowhere near enough waste in the system to counterbalance a $1 trillion buildup.

In a worst-case scenario, President Trump would make the occasional rhetorical attack on excess Pentagon spending as a way to distract attention from his massive proposed buildup.  Doing so would be bad for taxpayers and bad for our security.  Spending more on defense won’t make us safer.  It will take a carefully focused strategy backed up by well-trained forces armed appropriately for the most likely challenges we face to accomplish that goal.

The Cato Institute has put forward a plan that would provide a robust defense of core U.S. interests at $1 trillion less than current plans over the next decade.  The Cato plan involves a policy of restraint that would truly use military intervention as a tool of last resort and end the policy of maintaining a constant, substantial military presence in every corner of the globe. Cato’s approach would rely more heavily on the Navy as a “surge force” that could deploy as needed, adequately fund the Air Force, and scale back the Army and Marines.  It would end the F-35 program in favor of upgraded F-18s, and cancel troubled, unworkable programs like the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).  The Cato approach would also reduce the nuclear arsenal, relying on nuclear-armed submarines for deterrence while eliminating the redundant bomber and land-based missile legs of the nuclear triad. Even if one doesn’t agree with every aspect of this approach, it is clear that a policy of restraint that eliminates unnecessary missions and focuses on real security challenges could provide a superior defense at a substantially lower cost.

While a concerted attack on Pentagon waste is long overdue, the real savings on defense will come from adopting a more realistic strategy that allows reductions in force structure.  This is consistent with some aspects of Donald Trump’s positions on national security, such as his stated opposition to regime change and nation building and his demand that allies spend more on their own defense.  If President Trump really wants a more efficient approach to Pentagon spending, he should recast U.S defense strategy and rethink current weapons procurement plans at the same time that he tackles waste, fraud and abuse.

William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.

This is part of a series of pieces sponsored by the Pentagon Budget Campaign, a transpartisan campaign comprised of conservative and progressive organizations. The campaign seeks a vision for U.S. national security with less emphasis on wars and more focus on economic security.

Image: Lockheed Martin