Small Wars Journal

Obama Wants Defense Review, $400 Billion in Cuts

Obama Wants Defense Review, $400 Billion in Cuts

Al Pessin

Voice of America

The Pentagon says President Barack Obama's desire to find $400 billion over the next 12 years in additional defense spending cuts will result in reductions in U.S. military capabilities. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is launching a comprehensive review to develop options for the president to consider.

In his budget speech Wednesday, President Obama praised Secretary Gates for finding $400 billion in cuts based mainly on improved efficiency. Then he said he wants the same amount of cuts again.

"We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it's complete." Obama said.

In a fact sheet, the White House specified that the president wants to hold defense spending increases below the inflation level, and save $400 billion between now and 2023. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the cuts would affect the defense department's base budget, currently $553 billion per year. At the current spending rate that would be a cut of about 6 1/2 per cent per year. The cuts would not affect funding for the current wars.

Still, Morrell says reductions of that magnitude will have a real impact on U.S. defense capabilities, and will be considered carefully during the review the president ordered.

"The secretary has been clear that further significant defense cuts can not be accomplished without reducing force structure and military capability. The comprehensive review of missions, capabilities and America's role in the world will identify alternatives for the president's consideration. The secretary believes this process must be about managing risk associated with future threats and national security challenges, and identifying missions that the country is —to have the military forego." Morrell said.

Morrell says Secretary Gates was not aware the president wanted the review until Tuesday, and is still putting together a plan with other senior officials. The secretary did not speak in public Wednesday, but at a news conference in February he urged members of congress not to make defense cuts based on fixed amounts, but rather only based on the strategic and operational realities of today's world.

"Suggestions to cut defense by this or that large number have largely become exercises in simple math, divorced from serious considerations of capabilities, risk, and the level of resources needed to protect this country's security and vital interests around the world," Gates said.

The press secretary, Geoff Morrell, says the Pentagon's review of threats and capabilities will not be finished in time to impact the coming debate over the budget for next year. Rather, he says, any strategy-based reductions will be part of the president's budget proposal for 2013.


Obama's Speech on Reducing the Budget - New York Times transcript

Pentagon: Obama Budget Cut Forces, Missions - Associated Press

Gates Warns of Fallout from U.S. Defense Cuts - Agence France-Presse

Obama Seeks Spending Cuts, Taxes on Wealthy - Washington Post

Pentagon Warns on Big U.S. Defense Cuts - Reuters

Obama Urges Cuts and More Taxes on Rich - New York Times

Obama Unveils Plan to Cut Deficit by $4 Trillion - Los Angeles Times

Obama Stokes Deficit Fight - Wall Street Journal


Jed (not verified)

Thu, 04/14/2011 - 11:11am


You raise a good point on the whims of the electorate effectively dictating our lack of strategic vision, but I would counter that is precisely why we need strategic leadership vice politically driven tactics du jour.

It would be nice to see substantive changes to our election laws that would "allow" statesmen/women to emerge instead of our current crop of career politicians who, by default, have to constantly worry about getting re-elected instead of providing leadership that is best for our country's needs.

G Martin

Thu, 04/14/2011 - 10:54am

The only problem I have with having the civilian leadership tell us what we are expected to do is that they still can turn around and ask us to do something else they didn't foresee coming. I think we have little choice but to prepare for the "most likelies" and hope for the least complex.

I've really struggled with this concept of a strategic vision or grand strategy. While I agree we have been without one for some time and that it would be nice to have one, I am wondering at this point whether we don't have one because of who and where we are right now at this point in our history.

We seem to be bouncing back and forth between operational priorities in theater- reacting to the latest "crisis". I figured it was because of our lack of a grand strategy. But- maybe our lack of grand strategy is further caused by a lack of homogeneity within our electorate and society.

With respect to "our place in the world" I'd submit that there isn't a critical mass pulling towards any one set of priorities. Maybe in that kind of environment- where the people aren't motivated to do little more than bounce back and forth between "crises"- our political leaders just have no capital to waste on a grand strategy that will most likely get them booted from office. Whether that is a lack of leadership or too much apathy is open to debate IMO.

Q (not verified)

Thu, 04/14/2011 - 7:36am

Long term planning is absolutely a good thing but Dave Maxwell is on point. We 1st need to understand what the civilian "leadership" expects the military to actually accomplish. Crazy concept I know. Once the military is clear on the objective we can likely figure out few methods to accomplish that objective... whatever IT is. Additionally will someone please tell the White House, Congress, OMB and others to stop looking so closely at 8-12 year budget projections? They are nearly never even within 20% of the numbers and certainly the person in the White House will not still be there in 12 years. Ok if he looses the next election and then runs again he could be but you get the point...

This budget crisis offers both hope and dread. Crisis has frequently brought the best out in America. We can no longer tolerate more of the same. Hard decisions must be made on both sides of the aisle. No doubt the road ahead will be painful, and there will be few winners at the individual level, but in the long run if the hard right decisions are made, the relatively short term pain should in turn benefit our children if we can summon and sustain the conviction and political courage to live within our means once we fix the budget.

As for national defense, I suspect if we approached this smartly we could realize the savings desired over time and still maintain a viable defense capability. However, I have little faith that our Congress will approach this rationally. Instead they'll fight to maintain the pork for their districts regardless of whether or not that pork produces items or services that are actually of value to the defense strategy.

Interesting times lie ahead. I came in under the lean Carter years, then benefited from the Reagan build up, then the post Cold War drawdown (very painful), and then the seemingly unrational growth after 9/11 that was obviously unsustainable. Right sizing is a myth, we'll always be in a constant state of contracting and expanding, and both bring states bring opportunities and risks. None the less we always seem to come out of each phase O.K.. I doubt the end of the world is anywhere close, and I doubt that America will be a relegated to a second rate power anytime soon regardless of anticipated defense cuts. Instead we just may simply become more rational actors when it comes to defense.


Thu, 04/14/2011 - 12:14am

I see nothing good coming from this. Between the politicians and the senior officers, this will turn out badly for the military.

There's nothing complicated about this. Stop paying $400 for toilet seats, stop buying color printers for every office, etc.

If we muddle this up with plans, directives, estimates and other red tape it will only lead to more waste, more fraud, and more frustration. It will also provide for more inefficiency, which plagues our military enough as it is.


Wed, 04/13/2011 - 11:44pm

From The President's speech:

<i>So this is our vision for America -- this is my vision for America -- a vision where we live within our means while still investing in our future; where everyone makes sacrifices but no one bears all the burden; where we provide a basic measure of security for our citizens and we provide rising opportunity for our children.</i>

<i>But that starts by being honest about what's causing our deficit. You see, most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but like the stuff that it buys. Most of us, regardless of party affiliation, believe that we should have a strong military and a strong defense. Most Americans believe we should invest in education and medical research. Most Americans think we should protect commitments like Social Security and Medicare. And without even looking at a poll, my finely honed political instincts tell me that almost nobody believes they should be paying higher taxes.</i>

<i>So here's the truth. Around two-thirds of our budget -- two-thirds -- is spent on Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security. Two-thirds. Programs like unemployment insurance, student loans, veterans' benefits, and tax credits for working families take up another 20 percent. What's left, after interest on the debt, is just 12 percent for everything else. That's 12 percent for all of our national priorities -- education, clean energy, medical research, transportation, our national parks, food safety, keeping our air and water clean -- you name it -- all of that accounts for 12 percent of our budget.</i>

<i>I don't expect the details in any final agreement to look exactly like the approach I laid out today. This a democracy; that's not how things work. I'm eager to hear other ideas from all ends of the political spectrum. And though I'm sure the criticism of what I've said here today will be fierce in some quarters, and my critique of the House Republican approach has been strong, Americans deserve and will demand that we all make an effort to bridge our differences and find common ground.</i>

The time for more of the same is over.

Everything needs to be on the table, in a manner that is as open and transparent as possible. The conversation needs to include political, technocratic, economic, and popular input.

An adaptable national strategy/business plan needs to be articulated, incentivized, and adhered to.

Quarterly workplans which include cost estimates, schedules, defined expected outcomes, and defined roles & responsibilities, may be a place to start. These national workplans could be routed through the executive, judicial, and legislative portions of government every quarter and government officials could be held accountable for their actions....

Dave Maxwell (not verified)

Wed, 04/13/2011 - 10:27pm

With all due respect to the President and the Secretary of Defense but we do not need another defense review. What we really need is a grand strategy for the US. If we can get that right with coherent and properly balanced ends, ways, and means with an understanding of the threats and opportunties and our fiscal contraints, then we can have a chance to get our defense posture right or at least not too wrong.