Defense Budget Cuts by Restructuring the U.S. Military

by Robert Maynard

Is it possible to drastically cut our defense budget and actually increase national security?  Retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor Ph.D thinks that we can by restructuring the U.S. Military.

Macgregor was a top Army thinker on innovation.  He “became prominent inside the Army” when he published Breaking the Phalanx, which argued for radical reforms.  Breaking the Phalanx was rare in that an active duty military author was challenging the status quo with detailed reform proposals for the reorganization of U.S. Army ground forces.  The head of the Army, United States General Dennis Reimer, wanted to reform the Army and effectively endorsed Breaking the Phalanx and passed copies out to generals; however, reforming the U.S. Army according to the book met resistance from the Army’s de facto “board of directors”—the other four-star Army generals—and Reimer did not press the issue.

In 2011 Macgregor was the author of an article entitled “A Radical Plan for Cutting the Defense Budget and Reconfiguring the U.S. Military.”  His plan was indeed radical.  Here is the bottom line:”Estimated annualized savings resulting from withdrawals from overseas garrisons and restructuring the United States’ forward military presence: $239 billion.”  Macgregor argues that our vast overseas commitment really does not serve our national security interests, but results in our allies not stepping up to the plate and providing adequately for their own defense.  Our global presence also creates coalitions of opposing forces that might otherwise turn on each other.  As pointed out in this Reason Magazine article, spending on the military and homeland security has grown by 90% in inflation adjusted dollars since 2000.  The United States already accounts for about 45% of military outlays, which is more than the next 14 nations combined.  National security is one of the few responsibilities that the U.S. Constitution insists the federal government is responsible for so we should not take this matter likely.  We should keep in mind Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarks to business executives that debt is the biggest threat to U.S. national security.  To a certain extent, according to Colonel Macgregor, military spending is driven more by politicians trying to create defense industry related spending than it is by national security needs.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been warning of all sorts of calamities that would befall us if the sequester is allowed to happen.  Here is a little perspective from the Reason Magazine article on the magnitude of the “cuts” that would occur:

Back in 2011, he wrote to Congress about that sequestration could under the worst-case scenario amount to “23 percent” of military spending, which is simply not true. The sequester cuts, should they happen, will at most knock a few tens of billions of dollars off this year’s base budget for Defense, bringing the total down below $500 billion.

After which point it will start rising again, despite a much-ballyhooed end to two wars that have been very expensive in terms of lives lost and treasure spent. As the nearby chart prepared by Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy shows, the sequester means cumulative defense spending through 2021 would total $4.8 trillion instead of $5.3 trillion. Even the U.S. government would sign off on whatever torture Panetta is using on basic math.

And here’s a reminder: About half of the $85 billion sequester cuts will come from defense spending. But only about half of those spending cuts – $44 billion – will happen in fiscal year 2013. So we’re looking at an immediate cut in planned defense spending of something on the order of $20 billion.