Is America's Defense Budget Too Small?

A TNI video interview with James Jay Carafano.

The National Interest’s Managing Editor, Harry J. Kazianis, spoke with James Jay Carafano, a vice president of the Heritage Foundation.

Editor’s Note: Please see below an excerpt from Mr. Carafano’s recent piece in TNI: “Getting America’s Global Military Footprint Right.” You can read the full text here.

Over the last quarter century, Washington's primary tool for divesting infrastructure the armed forces no longer needs has been the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. But the Pentagon needs better tools if it is to manage its massive global footprint efficiently.

Throughout this summer of serial chaos, American interests have suffered setbacks on every critical front from Asia to the Middle East. The silver lining is that these harrowing challenges have helped most members of Congress see that it makes no sense to take a "peace dividend" when there is no peace. As a result, lawmakers in 2016 are likely to abandon the current cycle of ever-constricting defense budgets, which has demonstrably cut the capacity and capability of our armed forces.

That said, it is unlikely that defense budgets will rise quickly and sharply. To recover from the damage done and provide the force needed to handle the missions likely to be given them, the Pentagon will have to look hard for ways to get more bang for its buck. Managing the military's global infrastructure must be part of the mix.

The Pentagon's 200+ golf courses are only a tiny fraction of the 29 million acres of land and hundreds of thousands of buildings managed by the Department of Defense (DOD). In addition to facilities in the United States, the armed forces have a global footprint to get troops where they need to be to safeguard the nation's interests. For example, DOD maintains more than eighty installations and bases in Japan and more than one hundred in Italy.

Global companies, like DHL, with corporate facilities in hundreds of countries and territories, recognize that managing infrastructure is a core competency for ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of their operations. They fret constantly over the state of their global footprint. DOD should do no less.

This is no revolutionary concept. The DOD has been trying to shed infrastructure since the end of the Second World War. McNamara's "whiz kids" made it a priority when they ran the Pentagon. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been five rounds of BRAC. In 1988, DOD shuttered sixteen major bases. In 1991, twenty-six got the axe. In 1993, the Pentagon ordered twenty-nine major closures. In 1995, twenty-seven more went by the wayside. In 2005, thirty-three additional bases got red-lined. At the same time, the armed forces realigned (moved facilities and personnel among) fifty-five other major bases and 234 minor facilities.

Overseas, the U.S. military presence has also shifted dramatically. Today, around 67,000 military personnel serve in twenty-eight main operating bases in Europe. That's a fraction of the footprint that was in place during the Cold War. The presence in South Korea is also smaller. On the other hand, the buildup of the U.S. military base on Guam is dramatic. The U.S. infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan swelled after 9/11. Both have been massively scaled back.

It has never been easy to match footprints to needs. America's global commitments keep evolving. Military budgets have waxed and waned. Technology and logistics and business practices change. The needs of the different services have to be taken into account. And politics—both at home and overseas—always matter.

Image: Flickr/Official U.S. Air Force/CC by-nc 2.0