The echo chamber of Washington is hard at work. The consensus is growing that the U.S. military will need to aim for a slimmer but still perfectly effective military, thanks to the budget and capability cuts of the past three years. However, given the magnitude of ongoing defense budget cuts, a hollowing force simply does not translate into a “meaner” military.
For the past half-century and more, America has taken a leadership role in the world. This has manifest vital national interests all around the globe. As a result, the U.S. military has global responsibilities and reach. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are forward deployed, and the Armed Services project power around the globe every day to protect our citizens and our economy. This serves to maintain and deter strategic interests (from trade routes to countering powers like Iran) and fight and win wars.
However, the military’s role is even broader, because our forces also respond to domestic emergencies and natural disasters here at home and abroad for tsunami and earthquake victims, for example.
These are hefty responsibilities that require an adequate budget. However, Washington continues to raid the military’s budget like a piggy bank, and the effects are starting to show, with rapidly declining readiness across the military.
Still, some are calling for reduced defense budgets on the assumption (or hope) that America’s military will be less engaged around the world. But a smaller military would still be charged with meeting the threats, demands, and challenges of the 21st century.
The argument for a leaner but meaner military just doesn’t add up. This is particularly true if the military goes hollow or becomes less capable as a result. A world without the U.S. military as the guarantor of freedom is not pretty. With even more defense cuts being considered today, the U.S. military could quickly become only a regional power and cede our long-held military supremacy that has contributed to our role as a global superpower.