Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Budget Cuts, Part I

With $17 trillion public debt and counting, the circus over the budget in the US House of Representatives has passed being laughable.  There are many good reasons to take an axe and do some wholesale chopping on the federal budget, and survival is far from the least of those reasons.

A good place to start would be the Department of Defense budget.  Now, I have a lot of friends and relatives who call themselves “conservative”.  However, they are not conservative when it comes to military spending.  This puzzles me.

In 2010, military spending in the US was almost $900 billion.  That amount for that year was nearly half of all military spending world wide.  In other words, the US spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.  And what do we get for it?  Safety, you say.  I say safety could be much less costly.

For instance, the US Navy floats 11 aircraft carrier task force groups.  The most any other country that may be a threat to us is (count it) one.  Would it not make more sense to reduce the number of carrier groups and bring them closer to our shores where they could protect us?

Another point.  The US has strategic defense treaty alliances with over 50 countries.  By my count, the number would be 56, but then, my sources are somewhat limited.  Many of the countries that we are bound to defend, such as the members of the European Union are fully capable of their own defense or are capable with alliances with their neighbors, as in the case of the EU.  Why are we still a part of NATO?  Why cannot the EU for its own military alliance without us?  Why are we maintaining bases inside the EU? 

Follow the money.  For every defense dollar the US spends in Europe that is a dollar that the members of the EU can allocate to pet socialism projects and not have to spend on defense.  The same is true of many other countries as well, such as Japan, Republic of Korea, and Canada.  Canada is particularly troublesome.  It has let so much of its military capacity dissolve into rust and dust.  Ten years ago, 75% of its military airlift capacity was not airworthy.  Lord knows what that figure is now.

The military-industrial complex in the US has become huge, and it has a strong and powerful lobby.  With the debt we are carrying, we can no longer afford such a lobby, and we need to break its back and make some wiser choices.

Most people are not willing to think rationally about putting a price on safety.  It is my contention that we can cut the defense budget and make ourselves safer than we are today.  The first step in this direction is to put a stop to military adventurism.  This means a ban on slogans, such as “Making the world safe for democracy”, and such tripe as that.  It means if there is a civil war in Middle Eastern countries, we stand aside and become spectators.  It means becoming energy independent so we don’t have to go to war to defend someone else’s oil fields.  It means leveraging the excellent technology we already have to project our defense from our own shores.  It means being honest about where the true threats are and not spouting propaganda about imaginary threats.  It means changing the foreign policy.

Of course, this will put the squeeze on defense contractors.  But that is the point.  Let them put their capacity and intellect towards selling reduced capability weapons to other countries, or (and what a concept) goods and services that combat disease, famine, and natural disasters.  They can also adapt war tech to commercial space travel or marine agriculture.

Regardless, I think it is pretty evident that the current level of focus on military is unsustainable over the long term.  Now, before you start accusing me of being isolationist, I would counsel you to look the term up.  A nation like the United States can be engaged in the world community without bombing anyone to oblivion.  Two fantastic ways to do that include political discourse and economic policy.  Both of these approaches have served the US and other countries well in the past.

To wean ourselves off of the public perception that we need so much spending on defense, we need to be realistic about what the threats really are.  Personally, I feel no threat from a tin pot dictator in a largely desert country on the north shore of Africa.  I didn’t feel threatened by roving gangs of thugs in the Balkans, either.  And I sure as heck don’t feel threatened by some third world, stone age country in Central Africa.

So, how do we cut the military budget while making ourselves safer?

1.     Reduce the number of strategic defense treaties to a set with countries that we truly have a dependence on or share a border with.
2.     Focus on real threats to the US, not regional conflicts that have very little to do with the US.
3.     Reduce the number of naval task forces to enough to cover our own shores with a few expanded task forces.
4.     Retire the B-52 fleet.  Reinvest the maintenance budget for these relics into unmanned strike capability (think cruise missiles, not drones)
5.     Disengage from NATO.
6.     Allow Japan to rearm and enter into common defense treaties with like-minded neighbors.
7.     Wind down our wars in the Middle East. Quickly.
8.     Approve the Keystone Pipeline, certify phracking, and exploit the larger shale oil fields. (This has the added bonus of improving the economy)
9.     Implement co-pay deductibles for ex- and retired military health insurance.
10.  With the closing down of foreign bases and foreign wars, reduce the number of active duty personnel.
11.  Coincidentally, with the closing down of foreign bases and foreign wars, reduce the number of civilian contractors.  Use a part of the savings for advanced combat training.
12.  Pay aerospace and defense  contractors for their R&D and bid out production separately for warfighting technology.
13.  Create military specifications for only combat equipment, and not things like hammers and toilet seats.  Allow non-combat materiel to be purchased on the open market .
14.  Do not allow flag rank officers to work for aerospace and defense contractors for a period of five years after their retirement date.

This is a start.  Do I think it will happen?  Not in my lifetime, unless something drastic happens, like the overwhelming federal debt causing the economy to fall into an economic black hole. Oh wait….

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