The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) served as a political punching bag during the recent political sparring over the federal budget sequestration. Sequestration is federal law requiring automatic cuts in spending if Congress is unable to agree on how to operate within federal budget limits. Because the DOD spends 20 percent of the entire federal budget, it’s always an easy target.
Trimming the defense budget appears inviting, but budget trimmers must be careful. Just as careless trimming by a barber can wreck a haircut, careless trimming of a budget can create big problems. Success requires knowing what and where to trim, so as not to create undue risk. Unfortunately, such knowledge is lacking in both the legislative and executive branches of government.
For example, tanks have been a mainstay of U.S. military power in Europe since
D-Day. The United States once had several thousand tanks in Europe. In March 2013, the last American tanks were withdrawn. This marked the first time in 69 years that Europe has been without American armor.
The withdrawal occurred without fanfare because the tanks were no longer needed.
The likelihood of large-scale armored warfare in Europe for the foreseeable future is nil. The political and economic realities of the area simply don’t allow for it. The same can be said for a U.S. vs. China conflict. While the possibility of war with Korea or Iran cannot be ruled out, the geography is not suitable for large-scale armored warfare in either country.
America currently has more than enough tanks to support any conceivable contingency. Yet while Congress debated budget cuts for the sequestration, it simultaneously pushed the U.S. Army to procure 300 new M-1 Abrams tanks – this despite the fact that there are currently around 2,000 M-1’s sitting idle in a depot near Reno, Nev. Procuring new tanks in this fashion amounts to creating a jobs program for the areas where the tanks and spare parts are made. It is spending for political gain – nothing new, but still troubling given the sad state of the economy.
The Abrams tank was designed for the type of warfare that is increasingly becoming unlikely. Why buy more? Similar problems exist with other large weapons programs.
The United States has many big problems besides military spending. Take the National Intelligence Community, for example. Despite astronomical spending, intelligence failures contributed to the success of the 9/11 attacks and more recently the Boston Marathon bombings.
Then there is the debate about how to legally handle an increasing number of U.S. citizens who join forces with foreign enemies to commit acts of terror against America.
There is also the question of how the United States should employ so-called drones (more correctly called remotely piloted aircraft) against enemy combatants operating on foreign soil, including some who are U.S. citizens.
Perhaps the most difficult security challenge of all is how to safely reform a deficient national immigration policy that has repeatedly enabled enemy foreigners to enter the country illegally and attack Americans.
The rapid collapse of the superpower Soviet Union, which began in 1989, came as a shock to the world. It created a global power vacuum, the effects of which are still being played out. The dangerous instability in the Middle East today; the collapse of Yugoslavia and subsequent civil war; the inter-ethnic tension in a number of former Soviet republics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; the rapid spread of global Islamic radicalism; and the rapid rise of China as a global superpower are all at least partially attributable to the Soviet Union’s collapse.
Unfortunately, American national strategy has not fully adapted to a post-Soviet world. Part of the problem is that the United States has no integrated strategy for the future – call it a national survival strategy if you will.
There is a national security strategy that is largely diplomacy-focused, and a national military strategy aimed at defending the nation. However, these strategies only partially address the four elements of national power, which are widely recognized as diplomatic, informational, military and economic power.
Economic strategy is probably the most neglected area associated with America’s national survival. The current economic strategy is short-sighted, looking no farther than the next national election. By all appearances, the strategy consists of bailing out failing financial firms using other people’s money; incurring more foreign debt; printing more money to pay for the debt; allowing the country’s manufacturing base to be off-shored without putting up a fight; and neglecting the problem of the nation’s crippling dependency on foreign oil.
In October 2008, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine published an article, “Why America needs an economic strategy.” It makes the troubling observation that, “America’s political system, especially as it has evolved in recent times, almost guarantees an absence of strategic thinking at the federal level.
“Government leaders react to current events piecemeal, rather than developing a strategy that unfolds over years. Congress and the Executive Branch are organized around discrete policy areas, not around the overall goal of improving "competitiveness.”
Unfortunately, as the article points out, America’s political system is not geared toward strategic thinking.
Does this mean the golden age of America is already past?
Let’s hope not, both for our own sakes and for the sake of the free world.
The article is spot-on, but the country needs much more than just an economic strategy. It needs a national survival strategy addressing all elements of national power and how to integrate them.
Without it, America will continue to decline as a global power and could become largely irrelevant in a generation or two.
Zachary Hubbard, formerly of Johnstown, is a freelance writer and retired Army officer residing in the Greater Pittsburgh area.