Not the Right Answer

In a speech this week in Colorado, Defense Secretary Robert Gates latches onto a new catch-phrase “Next-War-itis” to pooh-pooh defense leaders who are “in favor of what might be needed in a future conflict” over the “capabilities we need today.” He posits, “In a world of finite knowledge and limited resources, where we have to make choices and set priorities, it makes sense to lean toward the most likely and lethal scenarios for our military.” In other words, America cannot afford to fund its defense adequately to fight the war on terror and recapitalize for likely future threats. That is the wrong answer. As Air Force Magazine Editor in Chief Robert Dudney writes, “The next President, on Inauguration Day, will confront some nasty, complex, and unavoidable problems, as President Bush hands over a force pushed to near-collapse by underfunding and overuse.” Dudney and others have pointed out that the relative defense-spending burden on American taxpayers is at historically low levels. The current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael G. Mullen, has called for raising today’s DOD budget modestly to the equivalent of four percent of GDP, or $600 billion a year. And, some senior lawmakers are beginning to listen. In February Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, remarked: “Can the force that the Air Force is budgeting for today fulfill the national military strategy? My review of your budget, and the full committee hearing we held on this topic last fall, suggests that the answer is ‘no.’ ” The decline in defense spending, begun during the Clinton Administration and continued into the Bush Administration, explains Dudney, has produced “nothing less than the slow-motion dismantlement of the nation’s premier asymmetric military force—the Air Force. At some point, we will have put ourselves irrevocably on course for the failure of American arms in some future conflict.”