Some excerpts :
The looming battle over the defense budget could produce a useful national discussion about American foreign and defense policy. But we would need to begin by dispensing with the most commonly repeated fallacy: that cutting defense is essential to restoring the nation’s fiscal health. People can be forgiven for believing this myth, given how often they hear it. Typical is a recent Foreign Affairs article claiming that the United States faces “a watershed moment” and “must decide whether to increase its already massive debt in order to continue being the world’s sheriff or restrain its military missions and focus on economic recovery.”
This is nonsense. No serious budget analyst or economist believes that cutting the defense budget will aid economic recovery in the near term—federal spending on defense is just as much a job-producing stimulus as federal spending on infrastructure. Nor, more importantly, do they believe that cutting defense spending will have more than the most marginal effect on reducing the runaway deficits projected for the coming years. The simple fact is, as my Brookings colleague and former budget czar Alice Rivlin recently observed, the scary projections of future deficits are not “caused by rising defense spending,” and even if one assumes that defense spending continues to increase with the rate of inflation, this is “not what’s driving the future spending.” The engine of our growing debt is entitlements.
In fact, the only way to get significant savings from the defense budget—and by “significant,” we are still talking about a tiny fraction of the cuts needed to bring down future deficits—is to cut force structure: fewer troops on the ground; fewer airplanes in the skies; fewer ships in the water; fewer soldiers, pilots, and sailors to feed and clothe and provide benefits for. To cut the size of the force, however, requires reducing or eliminating the missions those forces have been performing. Of course, there are any number of think tank experts who insist U.S. forces can be cut by a quarter or third or even by half and still perform those missions. But this is snake oil. Over the past two decades, the force has already been cut by a third. Yet no administration has reduced the missions that the larger force structures of the past were designed to meet. To fulfill existing security commitments, to remain the “world’s power balancer of choice,” as Leslie Gelb puts it, to act as “the only regional balancer against China in Asia, Russia in eastern Europe, and Iran in the Middle East” requires at least the current force structure, and almost certainly more than current force levels. Those who recommend doing the same with less are only proposing a policy of insufficiency, where the United States makes commitments it cannot meet except at high risk of failure.
The only way to find substantial savings in the defense budget, therefore, is to change American strategy fundamentally. The Simpson-Bowles commission suggests as much, by calling for a reexamination of America’s “21st century role,” although it doesn’t begin to define what that new role might be.
The debates over whether and how the United States should respond to the world’s strategic challenges will and should continue. Armed interventions overseas should be weighed carefully, as always, with an eye to whether the risk of inaction is greater than the risks of action. And as always, these judgments will be merely that: judgments, made with inadequate information and intelligence and no certainty about the outcomes. No foreign policy doctrine can avoid errors of omission and commission. But history has provided some lessons, and for the United States the lesson has been fairly clear: The world is better off, and the United States is better off, in the kind of international system that American power has built and defended.
As Haass and Roger C. Altman have correctly noted, “it is not reckless American activity in the world that jeopardizes American solvency but American profligacy at home.” The United States may be in peril because of its spiraling deficits and mounting debt, but it will be in even greater peril if, out of some misguided sense that our national security budgets must “share the pain,” we weaken ourselves even further.