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President Obama’s Defense Budget Falling Flat on Capitol Hill

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Thursday morning, the Defending Defense coalition—The American Enterprise Institute, The Heritage Foundation, and the Foreign Policy Initiative—will host members of Congress discussing the negative consequences of the Obama administration’s defense guidance and budget. The event will feature speakers such as Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), House Armed Services Committee Chair Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R-VA), and others.

While these policymakers all bring different backgrounds to the table, expect a common theme to be the Obama administration’s embrace of American military decline. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, President Obama is not pivoting to the Pacific. Rather, the U.S. military is treading water with rapidly falling budgets.

As former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once observed: “the budget is policy.”

Unfortunately, the administration has chosen a policy of neglect. Budget cuts are hitting all of the Armed Forces, but special attention needs to be paid to several themes that the Defending Defense speakers are likely to highlight:

Strategic Forces

Senator Kyl has long been a proponent of America’s strategic forces and nuclear readiness. He is likely to find much to disprove of in the administration’s budget request for 2013. America’s nuclear forces are some of the oldest in the world. While other nuclear powers have modernized their arsenals through developing new prototypes and designs, the U.S. has chosen to only upgrade existing warheads with new technology. While this has saved money in the short-term, America’s nuclear arsenal is increasingly out of date with weapons so heavily modified from their original designs, untested to ensure accuracy.

Because America has not built a nuclear warhead in years, many of the scientists who produced these weapons during the Cold War have long since retired or moved on. Today’s nuclear workforce has studied and maintained America’s strategic arsenal, but it has never actually built a nuclear bomb. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates observed, “to be blunt, there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without either resorting to testing or pursuing a modernization program.”

Not only does Obama’s budget cut 15% from nuclear modernization, one proposal apparently being debated at the White House would cut America’s nuclear arsenal from 1,800 warheads to a little over 300—an 80% reduction. At a time when China is building thousands of miles of underground tunnels to house its rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal, contemplating such dramatic cuts to America’s strategic forces makes no sense.

The U.S. Navy

The Obama administration has been widely praised for embracing the Pacific and emphasizing the importance of naval and air assets in maintaining command of the global commons. But this “pivot” is not new. It follows the wisdom of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel–led by Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense and George W. Bush’s National Security Adviser–whose members found:

“The force structure in the Asia-Pacific area needs to be increased. In order to preserve U.S. interests, the United States will need to retain the ability to transit freely the areas of the Western Pacific for security and economic reasons. The United States must be fully present in the Asia-Pacific region to protect American lives and territory, ensure the free flow of commerce, maintain stability, and defend our allies in the region.”

Unfortunately, the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia is nothing but a paper tiger. The President’s defense budget is shrinking the Navy and the Air Force while laying off 100,000 active-duty soldiers and Marines.

Nowhere is the pivot more hollow than when it comes to the Navy. While the administration preserved funding for many big-ticket programs that dominate the headlines, others that are more discreet fell victim to budget cuts. Programs for anti-submarine warfare, electronic attacks against incoming missiles, advanced radars, sensing, cruise and ballistic missile defense, and undersea weapons all see reductions in the defense budget. These are examples of advanced technologies that a military focused on high-end warfare in the Western Pacific should be investing in, but the Administration has cut them.

If cutting future innovation and investment were not enough, the Obama budget retires seven cruisers years before they were scheduled. Again, budget numbers simply do not match the Administration’s strategy. In the FY 2012 budget, Obama said that he planned to build 13 ships in 2013 and 57 ships from 2013-2017. One year later, in the “pivot” budget, the Administration is requesting ten ships in 2013 and 41 ships from 2013-2017.

Defense Strategy Says One Thing and the Budget Funds the Opposite

The Administration’s growing gap between the newest defense strategy and budget makes more sense when viewed in the context of the administration’s domestic priorities. Just as President Obama wants to raise taxes on some Americans in order to pay for others, the administration is weakening America’s military strength in order to pay for expansive domestic federal programs.

The President submitted a budget complete with a $900 billion deficit, but did not properly fund defense by even his own standards set just a year ago. If the administration truly believes that a domestic welfare state is more important than a strong national defense, it should be honest and make that case on its own merits. You will not hear that debate in Washington anytime soon. But some members of Congress will stand up today and say this defense budget is dead on arrival.

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