Trump Defense Budget Too Small?

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government reviews criticism of the President’s 2018 defense budget proposal.

A key issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, ignored by the media but not the voters, was the sharp reduction in America’s national security during the Obama presidency.

President Trump’s first 2018 defense budget request amounts to a $603 billion base budget, a $54 billion hike over Obama’s last figure.  While a step in the right decision, it fails to take into account four key factors. First, the military has been starved for funds during the Obama presidency, (From 2010 to 2015, total defense spending was cut 22% in constant dollars) a deficiency which must now be remedied; Second, much of America’s equipment and the personnel of the armed forces are worn down and exhausted from use in the Middle East and Afghanistan; third, an excessively substantial portion of the U.S. arsenal has simply aged out, much of it dating from the Reagan buildup of the 1980’s and some going all the way back to the 1950’s; and fourth, the world’s strategic environment has changed, dramatically for the worse.

That fourth point must be the centerpiece on any debate over defense spending.  Unlike almost all other federal programs, military planning does not turn on purely internal considerations.  It is always a response to the threat environment. Over the past decade, that environment underwent a radical change. Russia is now, for the first time in history, the planet’s strongest nuclear power. In addition, it has invested vast sums in developing a 21st century conventional military, with cutting edge equipment.  China has also emerged as a rising nuclear power, and some believe that its atomic arsenal is many times larger than once assumed. The U.S. deterrent has become badly outdated. China’s conventional military is as technologically advanced as America’s, and outnumbers its U.S. counterpart in several areas.  Significant nuclear and conventional threats also come from North Korea, and in the not too distant future, Iran.

Defense Secretary Mattis stated that he was “shocked” at the lack of readiness of America’s military. A statement from the House armed services Committee (Chair Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) worries that the U.S. has “too many planes that cannot fly, too many ships that cannot sail, too many soldiers who cannot deploy, while too many threats are gathering. We have come to a key decision point. For six years, we have been just getting by – cutting resources as the world becomes more dangerous, asking more and more of those who serve, and putting off the tough choices…”

Chairman Thornberry is seeking $28.5 billion above President Trump’s $603 billion for core Pentagon needs, along with slightly under $65 billion for warfighting missions.

Thornberry points out that “FY 17 defense spending is 18% lower than it was in 2010, measured in constant dollars.  And remember, 2010, the year we are measuring against, was before Russia invaded Crimea, before China built islands in the South China Sea, before any of us had ever heard of ISIS, and certainly before North Korea embarked on its crash missile program.
The Administration sent us a budget proposal for $603 billion, about 5% above current spending and about 3% above the amount that the Obama Administration had proposed for FY18.  Their proposal would cut missile defense below current spending, cut ship building accounts, add no additional soldiers to the Army, etc. While Secretary Mattis and General Dunford testified that they support the Administration’s request, of course, they also testified that they supported every one of the unfunded requirements submitted by the Services.  And so the difference in the Administration’s request and this mark is that we [the House armed services committee) fund $21 billion out of the $31 billion in unfunded requirements, plus we start moving toward the 350 ship Navy with an extra $6 billion in shipbuilding.”

 A Heritage Foundation study  concurred with Rep. Thornberry’s concerns. “…military readiness is dangerously low due to chronic underfunding, forced reductions, and the prolonged, high tempo of combat operations. Adequately funding national defense programs should be the primary objective of Congress in the upcoming spending battle. Inadequate and uncertain funding is particularly devastating for our military because it stops new initiatives in their tracks, derails innovative solutions and creates huge, long-term problems for equipment programs.”

Compounding the individual threats from Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and Pyongyang is the clear and growing military alliance between Russia, China, and Iran.  One of several factors in the U.S. victory over the Soviet Union was the very subtle commonality of interest between Washington and Beijing. That advantage has been reversed, and now China and Russia constitute a unified axis aimed at America.  The two giant nations trade technology and advanced weaponry, and their navies have trained jointly in major exercises in the Mediterranean Ocean, the Baltic Sea, and the Pacific.

The Report concludes tomorrow.