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The U.S. Department of Defense is deep into repetitive budget drills, trying to figure out what kind of force structure will remain if the Pentagon has to absorb $600 billion, $800 billion or even $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade. The White House and OSD are trying to be clever by requiring that each of the military services develop their own alternative force structures not only for that individual service but for the others as well. Undoubtedly, the hope is the services will engage in intramural warfare, competing with one another to save their own programs and force structure by savaging those of the others.
The only alternative strategy to emerge has come from no less a source than Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. As he made clear in last week’s Iowa debate and on his campaign website, Congressman Paul thinks our allies should be left to fend for themselves, rogue states should be permitted to acquire nuclear weapons, the United States should not fight long wars and we should bring our military back from overseas to guard our southern border. He alone among current politicians does not pretend that defense spending can be reduced by hundreds of billions of dollars without a corresponding change in national security and defense strategies. Actually, he does it the right way: articulate a vision of U.S. national security and associated defense policy and then adjust defense spending accordingly.
There are a number of strategy options available to DoD in the face of draconian budget cuts. One option would be to rely on other nations to defend U.S. overseas interests. Another would be to cut a deal with potential adversaries and rising powers. A third would be to rely on nuclear weapons to replace reductions in conventional forces (this is a replay of the 1950s strategy of Massive Retaliation). A fourth strategy would be to return to the pre-Cold War model for defense which relied on national mobilization in the event of a major conflict. Given the state of the world, none of these may be satisfying but they have the virtue of fitting a reality in which defense spending is reduced.
When individuals rely on magical thinking to solve real world problems or to deny the presence of real dangers it can be considered a form of mental illness. When government officials do it is it any different? Solemnly intoning the phrase “acceptance of risk” doesn’t make cutting defense without changing the guiding strategy any less crazy.
We can no longer afford to keep all these overseas bases and wars, we need to turn this boat away from the coming iceberg.