President Barack Obama’s Debt Commission includes $100 billion in defense cuts a year by 2015. That represents over one-seventh of the defense budget. Since the military is already straining to meet all its missions now, these cuts would simply force the military to stop doing certain things. This is not just Heritage saying this. The force structure outlined by the Pentagon in its recent Quadrennial Defense Review as the minimum capabilities necessary could not be sustained this these cuts.
Since the White House has already shown that it plans to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan through 2014, that means spending on operations would cut directly into training and readiness. The U.S. would be incapable of responding to another major contingency without very grave risk of failure.
Furthermore, procurement that is already under-funded would have to make serious tradeoffs. Something wouldn’t get bought. Programs like a replacement air tanker would be on the chopping block. We could wind up with so few F-35s that the U.S. would never again start any major mission with assured air supremacy.
In the out years the “bow wave” of the new equipment that the U.S. needs to have versus the amounts available to purchase would mean that some capabilities (like long-range bombers) would vanish.
Defending U.S. interests in parts of the world would fall off the table. For starters, there is no way the U.S. could sustain in any credible way its commitments to NATO, the Middle East and Israel, and South Korea and Asia at the same time.
The military would likely have to shed 100,000 troops or more. Cutting ground forces would mean units on their fifth and sixth tours of combat duty in Afghanistan would get no relief.
Systems like missile defense would be imperiled not just because of the shortage of funds but because of our industrial defense. Since the U.S. is not buying anything, design engineers are retiring and not being replaced. U.S. design engineering capacity on satellites, large rockets, combat aircraft, large transport aircraft, and helicopters are already in peril. Pretty soon our equipment will not only not be “built in the USA”; it won’t even be designed in the USA.
Forget about defending the homeland. The Pentagon has already shaved the number of troops dedicated to respond to chemical, biological, or nuclear attacks. The U.S. capacity for air marshals, which we implemented after 9/11, will vanish.
Many of the capabilities the U.S. is building to address emerging threats like cyber security and training foreign militaries would fall by the wayside as the services struggle just to maintain basic forces.
Then there is the “wild card”: How would America’s adversaries move to take advantage of this deliberate self-weakening? What would Iran do if there is serious question if U.S. air power could even reach nuclear sites in Iran? What would Russia do the next time it wants to invade a neighbor? What would North Korea do when the U.S. struggles to find enough ships and planes to reinforce South Korea? What would China do if it finds it can control the South China Sea? What would Venezuela do if it sees that the U.S. lacks the capacity to meet existing commitments? What would happen if even a country with a small nuclear force and missiles has the capacity to checkmate the U.S.?
There is, and always will be, an upper limit to the effectiveness of diplomacy and soft power. The ability of our political leaders to practice effective diplomacy rests on the foundation of a powerful military. These cuts would decimate that foundation.