I wrote here yesterday that the best way for the Secretary of Defense to heighten administrative efficiency in the Pentagon is to force the military services to compete for shrinking budgets. That was part one of three posts giving the Pentagon suggestions on how to get leaner. Part two, below, includes two more suggestions.
Close or consolidate geographic combatant commands
The geographic combatant commands—Pacific, Northern, Southern, Central, European, and Africa commands are unnecessary. They rely heavily on contractors, a cost that is relatively easy to quickly reduce (see slide 30 of this Defense Business Board report on each commands' cost and reliance on contractors). In peacetime, they perform redundant or unnecessary functions. Even during wars, we tend to stand up local joint commands (as in Iraq and Afghanistan), making the role of the geographic command unclear. The commands also generate waste because they further the divide between requirement drivers and requirement buyers. They request capability that someone else buys.
The commands have ill effects beyond wasted money. They hype threats in their region, skewing priorities. They have become alternatives to embassies, taking power from the State Department and confusing communications channels. With the exception of CENTCOM, which should be preserved for the duration of the wars, the commands should be closed. Some of their functions could be performed by far smaller Pentagon offices.
A less bold alternative is to consolidate the commands. Southern and Northern command could be combined because they serve contiguous lands in the peaceful western hemisphere and perform missions that largely concern domestic security and border issues. The other four could be reduced into two.
Pressure industry to close production lines
Excess production capacity causes waste in two ways. The first is redundant overhead. For example, because industry has more ship-building capacity than the nation needs for the Navy and Coast Guard, our acquisition bills are burdened by the need to pay for the administration of shipyards that could be consolidated and run at a lower cost. Industry has incentive to maintain duplicative production facilities because they create political support for programs. That is the second form of waste. Production lines are like hungry mouths that the taxpayer must feed with work. Congressmen and Senators fight for programs that feed the lines, pressuring the military to buy more platforms than it needs, as with the C-17, or to buy something new and unnecessary to keep the line open.
The Pentagon should have the ability to consider this second problem when it makes acquisition decisions. It should be able to penalize bids that would create new lines, as with the proposed EADS refueling tanker. We can limit excess defense costs by limiting the number of actors that benefit from them.
By the way, as anyone that clicked through the links in these two posts will quickly realize, these ideas are mostly borrowed from Harvey Sapolsky.
I have complained here twice that the media has confused the Secretary of Defense’s effort to shift money from administration to force structure with actual cuts to defense spending. Real cuts in defense spending, as Chris Preble and I often point out, should come with moderation in the goals the spending serves. I also think that any savings produced by cuts to the Pentagon’s overhead should go to taxpayers or deficit reduction, not force structure.
That said, the Secretary’s efficiency initiative is a good idea. Administration has taken a growing share of defense spending over the past few decades, despite the advent of communications technologies that theoretically might make management cheaper. Over the summer, the Pentagon’s Comptroller, Robert Hale, asked think tank analysts, including me, for five ideas each about how to cut overhead from the Pentagon. Because I am not bound to secrecy, and because readers might find them interesting or even useful, I’m posting them here, in parts.
Part one is about how scarcity and inter-service competition cause efficiency.
Cut Total Spending and Heighten Inter-Service Competition
The best way to cut overhead costs in the Pentagon is to cut its total spending. As with people, resource constraints in bureaucracy arrest wasteful habits and limit unnecessary spending. The military services will cut overhead to protect their preferred programs if their budgets shrink.
A related tool to heighten efficiency is budgetary competition. In government, of course, there is not market competition to penalize organizational waste. But civilian leaders can create similar effects by forcing organizations to compete for budget. That requires attacking jointness, which is now one of the more popular religions in Northern Virginia.
Since the Kennedy Administration, each military service has gotten a steady portion of total defense spending, once we account for the fact that defense-wide spending has taken an increasing share. This budgeting habit limits the extent to which the services see their budget as a reward for programmatic success or relevance to current dangers. Note, for example, that the Navy created submarine-launched ballistic missiles during the Eisenhower administration, when half of the defense budget went to the Air Force because of its nuclear weapons delivery capability. The Navy innovated to win back relevance and budget.
A defense budget that rewarded one service with portions of the others’ budget shares would encourage them all to become more relevant and efficient. Competition would also reveal inefficiencies to civilian decision makers. Information about what the other services are doing wrong is often held by potential rivals. They are more likely to reveal it when competition gives them a way to profit from it. What service should gain budgetary preeminence depends on national defense strategy, which is not the subject here.
In his address to India’s parliament on Monday, President Obama explicitly endorsed New Delhi’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It was an effective diplomatic move from the standpoint of Washington’s bilateral relationship with India. Not surprisingly, the audience gave that portion of the speech a thunderous ovation.
More significant, though, is that Obama’s endorsement sends a clear signal that the United States acknowledges India as not only a rapidly rising economic power, but a significant political and security player in the international system as well. The president’s comments also reduce concerns that the arms control crowd in his administration might roll back the improved relationship that had developed between the two countries during the Bush years. Arms control zealots have never forgiven India for deploying a nuclear arsenal and striking a blow against the fraying nonproliferation system. Because that faction seemed to have greater influence in the Obama administration than it did in the previous administration, there were legitimate worries that the nonproliferation issue could create a chill in U.S.-Indian relations. That prospect now seems less likely.
There are, however, some major questions that remain following Obama’s speech. Most notably, if India is added to the roster of permanent Security Council members, how many others—if any—should be added? And if so, which countries? It’s a little hard to advocate adding India without simultaneously adding Japan, since Japan has both a larger economy and (on balance) a more potent conventional military. The one major difference, of course, is that Japan would be the only permanent member that is not a nuclear-weapons state. But should that be enough to disqualify Tokyo?
There is also the matter of China’s probable opposition. Beijing has been noticeably unenthusiastic about India’s bid, and has been downright hostile to Japan’s. And the desire to block Tokyo’s UN ambitions existed long before the nasty spat erupted between the two countries this autumn over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islets. A threatened Chinese veto may stymie Obama’s proposal before it can advance very far. Moreover, by making such a splashy endorsement of India’s bid, President Obama may have further exacerbated tensions in the U.S. relationship with China.
Beyond those issues, if the Council’s permanent membership is expanded to include India and Japan, what about the next tier of key regional powers, such as Brazil, Turkey, and Indonesia? Should there also be a greater effort at geographic inclusion, adding at least one African country (most likely South Africa or Nigeria)?
Cryptically, Obama also spoke of India’s joining the roster of permanent Security Council members as part of unspecified reforms to the Council. It is not clear whether he meant only that other permanent members should be added as well, or if there ought to be changes in the Council’s powers and procedures. A crucial question is whether new permanent members would have the same veto rights as the current five permanent members. If the president has in mind a second tier with inferior status, New Delhi’s enthusiasm about his endorsement may fade rather quickly.
President Obama’s overall objective, though, is admirable. The roster of the Security Council’s permanent members reflects the distribution of international influence and status in the late 1940s, not today. It’s hard to justify fading, second-tier powers such as Britain and France having that status, while Japan and a rapidly rising major power like India remain on the outside. That just creates needless irritants.
Permanent membership on the Security Council is far more a matter of prestige than real power. Both supporters and opponents of the UN have always viewed the organization as being far more important than is actually the case. For good or ill, the nation-state is still the primary decision-making unit in the international system. The UN Security Council has been aptly described as a “waste basket” for dealing with problem issues. Over the decades, it has been tasked with addressing issues that the major powers did not deem important enough to handle on their own or through more effective multi-lateral organizations—in Washington’s case, that was usually NATO.
The UN Security Council’s role as a marginal international player is not likely to change in the foreseeable future regardless of the number or composition of the Council’s permanent members. Enlarging the Council is a diplomatic gesture that should be carried out, and President Obama has made an appealing, relatively low-cost move. One hopes that China and other opponents of enlargement come to understand that the issue is not important enough to warrant their expenditure of diplomatic capital.
I collaborated with my Cato colleague John Samples on an op-ed that appears in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In it, we speculated on the impact, if any, that the newly elected members of Congress might have on the military budget, and on U.S. foreign policy generally. I lived in the Philly area for a number of years, attending grad school at Temple, and living and working in Delaware County, and over the river in New Jersey, so it was pretty cool to be published there, for just the second time.
I would like to clarify one point. John and I write:
The tea party movement has no clear foreign policy agenda. It seems unlikely, however, that the same tea partyers who want the U.S. government to do less at home are anxious to do more everywhere else.
For example, the movement and its new representatives in Washington might prefer to avoid sending U.S. forces into unnecessary and futile wars. Accordingly, they might also realize that substantial reductions in military spending are strategically wise, fiscally prudent, and politically necessary.
I don't want to overstate the extent to which the public drives such things. Several studies show that Americans tend to defer to elites, especially on matters of foreign policy. This can have a particularly pernicious effect when we're talking about wars. Indeed, it is the launching of wars, and the supposed need to sustain those wars, and then the post-war occupations long after the wars had ended, that explain why the United States today spends more on its military than at any time since World War II. We add new missions, new obligations, new deployments; we almost never shed them.
The historical pattern is pretty clear. Washington launches a war. Initially, it might not even look like a war. It might be a police action, or combat advisers, or technical assistance, or a humanitarian mission. But then some of those troops are killed or injured, or perhaps other Americans are harmed in the process, and the public rallies to the troops/the flag. Then, once the mission is well along, there is an overwhelming impulse to see that investment through to victory, to recover sunk costs, or to maintain or restore the nation's credibility.
There a number of arguments for why we shouldn't allow sunk costs or concerns about credibility to sustain a military mission that has outlived its usefulness, or that might actually undermine American security (see, for example, Daryl Press's classic). The point here is that the enormous knowledge and power imbalance between the elites and the public at large, combined with the realization within Washington that policymakers can do some pretty stupid things abroad and not pay a heavy political price here at home, tips the scales heavily in an interventionist direction.
The Founders, mindful of this pattern from their study of history, intended for Congress -- and especially the branch closest to the people, the House -- to weigh heavily against foreign wars. Wars would have to be declared, by Congress, and paid for essentially on an as needed basis (recall that the Constitution stipulates the raising of an army, and the maintaining of a navy). But despite the fact that members swear an oath to uphold that sacred document, many are perfectly content to evade responsibility, assign blame to the White House when the wars go poorly, and ride in the victory parades when they go well.
This is not a new problem. In 1846, President James K. Polk sent U.S. troops into territory claimed jointly by Mexico and the United States. When Mexican forces attacked a contingent under Gen. Zachary Taylor’s command, Congress declared war, handing Polk the conflict that he wanted all along. Two years later, Congress formally censured Polk for exceeding his constitutional authority, but by then the damage had already been done. My Cato colleague Stanley Kober introduced me many years ago to a letter on the incident from then-Cong. Abraham Lincoln to his law partner. The exchange is eerily reminiscent of debates that we continue to have to this day, and I used it in my book, The Power Problem.
Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure. . . The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us.
In other words, the Founders' concerns have proved valid, but their system for constraining executive power has failed to live up to their expectations. Although the Constitution grants Congress the authority to declare war, and the president the authority to direct it once declared, our responses to recurring crises -- both real and imagined -- have fundamentally altered the balance of power.
But hope springs eternal. Real change is possible if a few of the new members, and a handful of the old bulls, decide to reject business-as-usual, and perhaps to return to an earlier vision of the proper balance between Congress and the Executive, and between the government and the people.
Despite her best efforts to placate Beijing, Secretary of State Clinton has once again managed to ruffle China’s diplomatic feathers. The latest incident occurred at the annual East Asian Summit that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) conducted this past weekend in Hanoi.
Clinton actually tried to adopt a low-key approach on several issues that the Chinese government considers sensitive. In her address to the ASEAN conference, she avoided mentioning most of the main policy differences between the United States and China, including the North Korean nuclear issue and the controversy surrounding Beijing’s alleged manipulation of its currency.
Secretary Clinton did weigh-in on the issue of maritime disputes, stating that “the United States has a national interest in the freedom of navigation and unimpeded lawful commerce.” But in her prepared remarks, she did little more than stress that such disputes needed to be resolved peacefully.
However, the ongoing spat between China and Japan over the status of a chain of islets (called the Senkakus in Japan and the Diaoyus in China) intruded in the proceedings and managed to undermine the secretary’s efforts at conciliation. That quarrel erupted again at the summit, with the Chinese foreign ministry accusing Japan of “damaging the atmosphere” when Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara brought up the issue at the diplomatic gathering.
Rather than staying out of the controversy, Clinton waded in, offering to host a tripartite meeting in which the United States would attempt to help resolve the dispute. Beijing immediately interpreted her move as support for Washington’s treaty ally, Japan, and made it clear that U.S. involvement was not welcome. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu stated bluntly: “The territorial dispute between China and Japan over the Diaoyu islands is the business of the two nations only.”
It is hard to escape the conclusion that the diplomatic brouhaha was at least partly motivated by Tokyo’s desire to gain more explicit support from its U.S. ally. Clinton’s clumsy attempts to have Washington become a participant in the bilateral dispute as a de-facto mediator was bad enough. But she made matters worse by asserting that the islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japanese defense alliance. That is not an entirely new position, but highlighting it in a high-profile setting was not at all prudent.
Her stance undoubtedly heartened ardent nationalists in Japan, but it again created tensions with China. Ma Zhaoxu tried to be restrained and diplomatic when he asserted merely that such as position was “extremely wrong” and that the United States should immediately “rectify” such a misinterpretation of the treaty.
Clinton’s broad and provocative interpretation of the treaty’s coverage not only antagonizes Beijing, it does not serve America’s best interests in any respect. It is one thing to pledge to risk war to protect Japan from unprovoked aggression and possible conquest—although even a commitment on that level should not be undertaken lightly. It is quite another matter to put America’s security on the line because of a dispute involving some obscure, uninhabited rocks.
U.S. leaders need to take greater care so that this country is not manipulated by East Asian nations that have parochial territorial squabbles and self-serving diplomatic and political agendas. Japan seems well into an effort at such manipulation. So, too, are the ASEAN members. It was likely not coincidental that ASEAN formally invited the United States this year for the first time to be a full participant in the organization’s East Asian Summit. That invitation came on the heels of China’s recent bold territorial claims in the South China Sea—an area in which several ASEAN nations have competing claims.
It is not wise for America to become entangled in such disputes. Our legitimate interests in the region are limited in nature, but we are incurring the risk of increased tensions with China and, perhaps, even a dangerous confrontation. Washington’s policy is drifting into troubled waters in the western Pacific, and a prompt course correction is needed.
The ruinous financial and geopolitical impacts of the Iraq war are many. Even worse are the devastating humanitarian consequences—more than 4,400 American and 300 allied personnel killed, hundreds of dead American contractors, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed and more maimed and wounded, and four million Iraqis displaced from their homes, half of them overseas.
Religious minorities have suffered disproportionately; the historic Christian community has been largely destroyed. Several hundred thousand Christians have been forced into exile abroad, mostly in Lebanon and Syria. Many others have been killed.
Many war advocates claim Iraq is now a great success. But not for Iraq’s Christians. Yesterday Baghdad was the scene of the worst attack yet on this vulnerable minority. Reports the Washington Times:
Iraq's dwindling Christian community was grieving and afraid Monday after militants seized a Baghdad church during evening Mass, held the congregation hostage and triggered a raid by Iraqi security forces. The bloodbath left at least 58 people dead and 78 wounded — nearly everyone inside.
The attack, claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group, was the deadliest recorded against Iraq's Christians, whose numbers have plummeted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion as the community has fled to other countries.
The next time policymakers consider launching an aggressive war for “humanitarian” purposes, or any purpose for that matter, they should remember the plight of Iraq’s Christians. Unfortunately, real people in America and around the world usually end up paying a high price for Washington’s attempts at social engineering.
A number of recent stories have noted the relative lack of attention paid during the mid-term election campaigns to the war in Afghanistan. Many commentators find this lamentable. Michael Gerson goes one better, arguing that most Americans are so worthless and weak that we should be glad that no one cares about the war. Better that we go about our business and mindlessly support the troops in the field. They know what is best for us. Shut up and sing. Pay. Etc.
I doubt that most Republican candidates are as disdainful of the American people (i.e. voters) as Gerson, but it is pretty obvious why they don't want to call attention to the war: it is one area where the public disagrees with them. Asked which party they trust most to do a better job handling the war in Afghanistan, respondents in a recent Newsweek poll gave the edge to Democrats over Republicans by a margin of 43 to 32 (though the 11 percent who said "neither" can't be comforting for leaders in either party) (Question no. 8, full results, here, pdf). Most -- though not all -- Congressional Republicans oppose the president's stated plan to begin withdrawing troops next summer. A plurality of the public at large thinks that that isn't fast enough.
How, if at all, does the tea party factor in here? A few of us here at TNI have commented about the foreign policy views of the tea party candidates, and a common theme is that we don't know what they are. At least I don't. The many men and women running with tea party support agree on some obvious things -- especially that taxes are too high and the government is too big -- but they share no common foreign policy vision.
Those lucky enough to get elected to Congress will each have to choose. If a new member reflects the wishes of their constitutents, he or she can be expected to push the Congress and the White House in the direction of withdrawal. But one constant in recent U.S. foreign policy is Washington's general disregard for public preferences. It is therefore equally likely that the new members will follow the lead of the inside-the-Beltway elites who have staked their reputation, and the country's future, on nation-building in Central Asia.
Part of me, however, thinks that those core tea party values will eventually register. It is hard for me to believe that people who think that the government spends too much money here in the United States are going to be comfortable with spending over $100 billion every year in a country with a GDP of roughly $14 billion. And it seems unlikely that members of a movement that generally doubts the U.S. government's capacity to fix this country will suddenly gain confidence in its ability to fix Afghanistan.
One can hope.
The Russians feel it is necessary to once again put boots on the ground and become involved in Afghanistan’s internal affairs. From the Associated Press today:
U.S. and Russian drug control agencies have raided heroin and opium labs in Afghanistan in an unprecedented collaborative bust, destroying $250 million worth of drugs, officials said Friday.
Afghan forces also were involved in the raid on four laboratories near the Pakistan border, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said on customary condition of anonymity.
"This operation significantly damaged heroin manufacturing capabilities ... and at the same time demonstrated the will of the Afghan nation and those allies who are impacted by drug trafficking to take necessary steps to bring stability to the country," the spokesperson said in e-mailed comments. "This was a very significant operation which could not have been done by one nation alone."
Russian anti-narcotics chief Viktor Ivanov said his agency cooperated closely with the U.S. counterparts to organize the bust, which ended Thursday and destroyed 932 kilograms (2,050 pounds) of heroin and 156 kilograms (340 pounds) of opium worth an estimated $250 million.
According to CNN, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Defense, NATO, the Afghan Ministry of Interior and the Russian drug control agency were all involved. While Mr. Ivanov stated Russia could increase the number of drug-agents it has in Afghanistan, he down played the idea that these represent Russian forces in Afghanistan.
It is not clear how this cooperation might evolve in the future, but these two stories do provide evidence that U.S. and Russian goals, with regard to the drug trafficking problem, are somewhat opposed. While Russia wants to see the eradication of opium production in Afghanistan in order to stem the flow of heroin to its estimated two million addicts, the United States at least recognizes that decimating the poppy fields of average farmers in Afghanistan drives them to the Taliban’s cause.
For the time being however, officials from both countries hailed this as a major victory in the U.S.-Russian relations reset.
This may or may not be a victory in that regard. But that should remain a limited factor influencing U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Cooperation with Russia is well and good, but when it leads to perception that Russia has a forceful presence in Afghanistan once again, this can only undermine U.S. strategy. The memories of the Soviet occupation are still fresh and bitter in the minds of many Afghans. Despite what Mr. Ivanov claims—that these agents do not represent military forces—it is doubtful many Afghans believe that assurance.
Whatever the objective of this cooperation, it is a clumsy move by the United States that may have negative long-term effects on the mission in Afghanistan.
Great Britain ceased to be a great power when it emerged from World War II militarily victorious but financially ruined. Nevertheless, it still tried to play the part, punching “above its weight in the world,” as Prime Minister David Cameron put it. As such, it has been America’s strongest military ally. But Britain’s pretense of global power is disappearing with London’s announcement of significant military cutbacks.
It’s hard to criticize the British. There are few serious security threats in Europe. Instability persists in some regions, but most Britons probably don’t believe that the Balkans is worth the bones of a single healthy Welsh grenadier. Nation-building missions in Afghanistan and Iraq are even more dubious. London gave up attempting to make the former a protectorate more than a century ago.
Moreover, the government of the British Isles is broke. It’s one thing to playact as a Weltmacht when you’re flush with cash. But when even the hallowed British welfare state faces significant cutbacks, London’s military-greatness game truly is over.
The Conservative-led coalition government has proposed significant reductions in public spending. The Liberal Democrats are taking a particular risk in challenging influential domestic interests.
In return, the Tories had to apply tough love to the armed forces. Defense Secretary Liam Fox managed to fend off calls for cuts of up to 20 percent, but Great Britain no longer can afford to field a military so much larger than its means.
Over the next four years the government plans a roughly 8 percent real reduction in the budget, 10 percent cut in uniformed personnel, one-third reduction in heavy artillery, 50 percent cut in tanks, twenty-five thousand reduction in civilian personnel, assorted naval cutbacks and full troop withdrawal from Germany.
Great Britain still won’t be a pushover. It will remain one of the world’s few nuclear powers, with the globe’s fourth-largest military budget, and will still possess one of the world’s most capable forces. Amyas Godfrey of the London-based Royal United Services Institute said: “it is still our intention to be a small island with global impact able to project our force around the world. And unlike many, like Germany and France, we actually do it.” Britain’s ambassador to America, Nigel Sheinwald, made a similar argument: “Our future force will be the most modern, capable, and deployable of any U.S. ally.”
Still, that’s not a difficult standard to meet.
The government’s decision to maintain carriers reflects the country’s traditional island defense strategy. London’s nuclear weapons will still secure Great Britain against any existential threat and offer Europe some measure of protection separate from that provided by the United States.
However, Britain’s ability to intervene abroad will be substantially diminished. The prime minister reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the war in Afghanistan, but his nation will find it much more difficult to enter similar conflicts in the future. No worries, though, since London does not plan to back additional foolish American nation-building ventures. Prime Minister Cameron explained that British forces would be deployed “only where key UK national interests are at stake.”
This policy change has horrified American neoconservatives. Who, they wonder, will join the United States in its next attempt at Third World social engineering?
Not the other European countries, which are shrinking their militaries as well. Even the Eastern Europeans, who profess to worry more about Russia, undertake little more military effort. And none of them is interested in Washington’s nation-building expeditions, other than as a means to win U.S. security guarantees.
Europe is unlikely to reverse course, despite NATO’s discussions of a new Strategic Concept and European Union proposals for a Continental foreign policy and defense force. Wrote Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post: “On its home continent, NATO does precious little military contingency planning, preferring to hold summits.”
Both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates expressed concern over London’s plans. But Great Britain must decide its own policy. American policy makers would not be pleased if foreign capitals lectured the United States on its military spending.
Washington should, however, make clear that the Europeans must deal with the consequences of their decisions. Max Boot complained: “The fact that British defense capabilities are in steep decline means that even more of the burden of defending what used to be called the Free World will fall on our overstretched armed forces.” Only if Americans continue to treat their allies as helpless welfare dependents.
U.S. defense subsidies for Europe made sense in the early years of the Cold War, when the Continent was still recovering from World War II. But that justification disappeared years ago.
Today U.S. security guarantees discourage the Europeans from doing more. Vassilis Kaskarelis, Greece’s Ambassador to the U.S., admitted: “They don’t have the capabilities, because in the last 50 years, the U.S. offered an umbrella in terms of military, security and stability.” Yet The EU alone has more than ten times the GDP and three times the population of Russia.
Moscow might beat up on its southern neighbor Georgia, but that is the extent of Russia’s ambitions and abilities. If that prospect worries Europeans, then they should respond. One can imagine other plausible threats—perhaps an Iranian missile strike—but a continent with a greater GDP and population than America has the wherewithal to confront such problems.
Rather than complain about the British government’s decision to look after its own citizens, the United States should do the same. In fact, London’s Strategic Review made two critical points relevant to America.
First, declared the study, the British armed forces “have been overstretched, deployed too often without appropriate planning, with the wrong equipment, in the wrong numbers and without a clear strategy.” Second, declared the Cameron government: “Our national security depends on our economic security and vice versa. So bringing the defense budget back to balance is a vital part of how we tackle the deficit and protect this country’s national security.” Both are true for America.
Boot worried that Republicans may be tempted to follow Prime Minister Cameron, but “his scything of defense—one of the core responsibilities of government—is an example that we would do well to avoid.” However, when the Constitution speaks of the “common defense,” it means the defense of America. The founders never imagined that the U.S. government would fulfill the “core responsibilities” of other nations’ governments. Protecting war-torn Europe from the Red Army during the Cold War helped defend America. Protecting the Europeans today is international welfare.
International welfare that Americans cannot afford. Uncle Sam is effectively bankrupt. The national debt is $13.5 trillion. The 2011 deficit will run $1.3 trillion, on top of $1.4 trillion last year. Under the most realistic budget assumptions Washington is likely to run at least $10 trillion in red ink over the next decade.
Domestic outlays pose the greatest financial burden, but that does not excuse unnecessary military spending. Indeed, war also has become an unfunded liability. Iraq already has cost $750 billion and the government expects care for veterans to ultimately push the total cost to about $2 trillion.
Other estimates run much higher. The bill for Afghanistan so far is $338 billion. By escalating that conflict, the Obama administration is not only running up current expenses, but also increasing the number of casualties and thus long-term care costs.
Moreover, very little of the “defense” budget is oriented to defense.
The U.S. is economically dominant, geographically secure, culturally ubiquitous, and allied with every industrialized state save China and Russia. America’s enemies are pitiful and few, and lack the means to hurt the U.S. heartland. The most pressing threat is terrorism, against which expensive nuclear missiles, air wings and carrier groups are of little value. Yet the United States accounts for roughly half global military outlays. In real terms military spending has doubled over the last decade. Washington spends more on the armed forces today than it did during the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam War.
What does it do with all this money? Defend prosperous, populous allies, like the Europeans, South Koreans and Japanese. Engage in social engineering in failed or hostile states, such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia and Iraq. Create more enemies by intervening in divided, violent nations, such as Pakistan, and unpopular dictatorships, such as Saudi Arabia. Americans are less secure as a result.
Washington should stop acting as the globe’s dictatress, a mix of nanny, scold and enforcer. In particular, American policymakers should adopt stricter criteria before intervening militarily. Again, the United States could learn from the British government, which pledged to
be more selective in our use of the Armed Forces, deploying them decisively at the right time but only where key UK national interests are at stake; where we have a clear strategic aim; where the likely political, economic, and human costs are in proportion to the likely benefits; where we have a viable exit strategy; and where justifiable under international law.
In cutting military outlays, David Cameron and his colleagues are making difficult but necessary decisions to advance their nation’s financial and geopolitical security. The Obama administration and Congress should do the same.
The Obama administration supposedly wants to use diplomacy to resolve the long-running crisis over Iran’s nuclear program. But Washington’s apparent negotiating strategy raises serious questions about the sincerity of that position.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the United States and its European allies are prepared to offer a new deal to Tehran. However, that proposal includes conditions that are tougher than those contained in the version that the Ayatollah Ali Kamanei rejected last year.
That is a curious negotiating strategy if the goal is truly to strike a deal on the nuclear issue.
There are two possible explanations for this puzzling stance. One is that U.S. and European Union officials are not sincere about wanting a negotiated settlement and are instead perfectly willing to see tensions escalate. The second possibility is that Western policymakers are extremely confident that the latest round of multilateral economic sanctions is beginning to bite, and that the Iranian regime will, sooner or later, have to capitulate. According to that logic, toughening the provisions of the new offer is a way of conveying to the clerical regime that the longer it waits, the worse will be the deal it eventually gets.
If the former explanation is true, the conduct of Washington and its allies is both reprehensible and dangerous. At a minimum, it risks the breakdown of diplomacy and increases the possibility of a military showdown—with all the negative consequences that would imply for the entire region.
If the latter explanation is true, Western negotiators may be overestimating—perhaps wildly overestimating—the impact of the latest round of sanctions. The new penalties are clearly causing more problems for Iran than previous rounds, but that is a rather low bar to clear. Moreover, the history of economic sanctions shows that, while they are capable of causing inconvenience to the target country, they have a poor record of getting regimes to abandon high-priority policies. And for Iran, the nuclear program is a very high-priority policy.
Instead of toughening their negotiating stance, the United States and its allies need to move in the opposite direction. If policymakers honestly want a peaceful settlement to the Iranian nuclear crisis, concessions and compromise are the necessary ingredients, not the State Department’s version of macho posturing.