After submitting a budget to Congress that ignores sequestration, newly-minted Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel launched an internal Pentagon review to belatedly plan for the cuts called for under the Budget Control Act (BCA). According to a recent Defense News article, three scenarios are being reviewed inside the Pentagon: A cut of an additional $100 billion over the next ten years or so, another $250 billion, or the full sequester amount of roughly another half trillion dollars. To be clear: None of these contingencies makes strategic sense, and each of them threaten to seriously undermine America’s national security.
But if the cuts are to come, some ways of implementing them are smarter than others. With this in mind, various Washington think tanks recently met under the leadership of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) to conduct their own analyses of the proposed budget cuts. In the exercise, teams could not rely on accounting tricks or unrealistic reductions of personnel or military infrastructure. Rather, participants were forced to confront the grim reality of how full BCA-level cuts would impact readiness, acquisitions, force structure and, ultimately, America’s national security.
Our strategy was designed to delay disaster as long as possible. In attempting to find a force posture that could maintain the strategic status quo on the cheap, we developed a strategy that we’ve coined PH2 — Patrol, Hold, Hope. To maintain the status quo, we determined that, at a minimum, America would need to defend the homeland, deter China, and maintain the security of the Middle East. This tight-rope strategy would be extremely risky, especially in the short-term. But if the US got lucky, and few crises emerged that required its response over the next ten years, it might be able to maintain its position in the world.
Along these lines, we relegated the bulk of [reduced] sea power to the Pacific, and our [leaner] ground forces to Central Command. We then relied heavily upon air power, which would serve both as first responder and kick-down-the-door force in a time of crisis and as a support service to the land and sea forces concentrated on opposite sides of the globe. In an attempt to fill the vacuum that would be left by smaller US forces, we included a heavier reliance on nuclear deterrence — though determining what that might look like or cost would require a serious reevaluation of the posture of our strategic forces.
The results of the exercise were alarming. The budget levels called for in the sequester — even when implemented under our shoe-string strategy — would reduce the readiness level of America’s military to a point that would necessitate a complete reevaluation of capabilities. No longer would our forces be able to respond to more than one crisis at a time. The size of both the US Navy and US Marine Corps would be slashed; modernization of the Army’s battle-worn equipment would have to wait; and inter-continental ballistic missiles would be unilaterally retired.
Even if only half of the BCA cuts were implemented, the US military would still not be able to reinforce deployed troops in more than one theater of conflict. Responding to a regime change operation in the Middle East, for example, or protecting our allies from the fallout of a collapsed North Korea might not be possible, as the time required to deploy troops from the US would increase as readiness levels decrease. Many critical components of the industrial base upon which we rely to arm and equip our troops in times of need would vanish, and “leading from behind” would become a necessity rather than a choice.
This exercise reaffirmed just how irresponsible BCA-level cuts to defense will be to America’s national security and to the security of the international system that is largely underwritten by American military power. That’s bad news for America, and it’s bad news for our allies around the world as well.
For more information on this exercise, please attend a briefing on Capitol Hill involving each of the organizations that took part in this exercise. The event will be held in Cannon Caucus Room today, Wednesday, 29 May, at 1:30 PM.