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(Gallup)

Wordwise

“Modest reforms to pay and compensation will improve readiness and modernization. It will help keep our all-volunteer force sustainable and strong. Keeping faith also means investing sufficient resources so that we can uphold our sacred obligations to defend the nation and to send our sons and daughters to war with only the best training, leadership and equipment. We can’t shrink from our obligations to one another. The stakes are too high.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

Friday
Mar222013

Strategy Review Arrives

It was recently announced that Secretary Hagel has ordered the Pentagon to launch a review of current strategy prior to the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The new review, led by Deputy Secretary Carter, is set to conclude by the end of May and assess DoD options in the face of the current defense drawdown. 

[DoD spokesman] Little said that the review would look at the Pentagon’s strategy, force posture, investments and previous assumptions and practices. It is designed to look forward and define the major decisions that need to be made over the next decade to adapt to “a range of future budgetary scenarios.

The review’s goal echoes Gordon Adams’ recent calls for a review US strategy in light of the current budget climate. However, as Gordon highlighted today, there are questions about the direction of the review:

This first look at the defense past and future could help [Hagel] set out strategic choices and management challenges as a way to guide the QDR. But it has to be budget constrained, and two things are unclear: First, is the secretary going to put resource limits on an equal footing with strategic choices, as is necessary; second, is he going to make this review a real plan with real guidance for the QDR.

Budgetary realities are inherently intertwined with assessing strategic capabilities for the future. This review will likely be a major factor in deciding the tone and direction of the upcoming QDR and, if it’s budget-informed as Gordon recommends, that could be a very positive contribution.

Thursday
Mar212013

Doing Less with Less

Earlier today, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a panel to discuss “Why this defense drawdown must be different for the Pentagon” featuring our own Gordon Adams. Despite the noise surrounding sequestration, Adams emphasized that the real danger lies in the department’s unsustainable cost growth in 3 areas: compensation and benefits, the back office, and acquisition programs. Rather than trying to do more with less, the department will need to set priorities so it can continue to respond to the most urgent threats even in a time of drawdown.

[T]here will be people who argue we have to keep everything up and we have to even spike in some of our capabilities because of the terrible world we face, and so we will have to do more but accept the fact that we will do less. That’s a recipe for hollowness. I don’t know a better recipe for hollowness than saying we’re going to do more with less…Or we can do less with less…You have to look across the board and say what it is that you want to do less [and] where the priorities are.

BFAD has extensively discussed how the U.S. can best shape its strategy and forces in response to a drawdown. Prioritizing the most important missions “would lead to a smaller and more focused military, with budget savings as a result,” as Adams and Matt Leatherman argued in a January 2011 article for Foreign Affairs. These priorities were identified in a November 2010 report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, “Restoring America’s Future,” to which BFAD contributed. This report emphasizes counterterrorism and cyber-security operations as the most critical missions, while also giving significant priority to deterrence and reassurance, sea patrol, humanitarian relief, and peacekeeping.

Sunday
Mar172013

The Sequester Fight Isn't Over Yet; Now…Dueling Budget Resolutions

Though we've tripped merrily past March 1st and OMB has duly issued its sequestration order, its not yet clear defense (or any government spending--including international affairs) will be forced to live at sequester levels.  

Base Defense

This week both chambers passed budget resolutions in committee, and both removed the cuts sequester imposed--on defense at least.  The House budget waived sequester but keeps defense flat from FY13 (presuming the CR passes) and matches the caps in the BCA for the next nine years.*  That means defense under the House plan would be held flat in real terms: no cuts, but no growth either.  It also represents the first conscious nominal cut to defense by the Republican-controlled House, as the Chairman's mark acknowledges:  "While this is significantly less than the levels in previous budget resolutions passed by the House, it is approximately $500 billion more than will be available absent changes in the Budget Control Act."  In another sense, of course, such a cut seems pretty minor compared to Republicans not defending defense over the sequester as they were expected to.  

The Senate budget resolution waives sequester too, but it grows defense year over year at about 1% less than inflation.  So nominally defense still would be growing, but in real terms it would be going down.  By doing so the Senate resolution saves $250B from defense over 10 years compared to the BCA caps, half the cut sequester requires achieved in a much more responsible way, but still a cut; if DoD took a fair share of that cut, it would put DoD's base budget about 10% below its FY10 peak.**

Overseas Contingency Funding

For war funding, the House resolution allocates $93B for FY14, or about $6B less than FY13 is likely to get but twice the President's placeholder from last year's budget, and $35B a year for FY15-23.  Those allocations don't quite cap war funding: section 603 of the legislative language chastises the President for not submitting a budget yet and then gives the Chairman of the Budget Committee the authority to change the war funding depending on what the President says when he does submit a budget.  So the House provides fairly unfettered flexibility for war funding, though not as free as the BCA.

The Senate resolution goes one better in handling war costs.  It caps FY14 at $50B, slightly more than the President's placeholder from last year's budget, and FY15 at $25B, significantly less than the President's placeholder. It provides no specific allocation for FY16 on, presumably assuming a near complete exit from Afghanistan.  But the resolution also includes a mechanism for providing more war funding if needed.  It has a deficit neutral reserve fund for any additional war funding. That means war funding can grow to meet any operational need, but the additional spending must be offset--either through decreased spending elsewhere or more revenue.  That’s not quite as strong as requiring a tax surcharge as I recently called for, but it’s still a real mechanism that acknowledges both the needed flexibility of war funding and also that our military operations should not bankrupt our nation.  

International Affairs Funding

International affairs funding is also treated pretty differently by the two committees.  The House cuts f150 12% from the presumed FY13 number in real terms, where the Senate increases f150 by 3%.  That's the difference between a cut of $5B versus an increase of $1B in real terms. From there both resolutions grow international affairs at about inflation, or flat in real terms.  Still, the difference in their first year means the Senate provides $70B more over ten years.  

The two committees have produced very different resolutions, though the differences in national security are mainly in the details.  Both waive sequester for defense but neither grows defense above inflation.  The Senate provides less money for defense and more for international affairs.  The House does the opposite.  The remaining question though is will anybody actually cut a deal that waives sequester?  Or are all these proposals already obsolete?

 

* That is, it matches the caps as long as there are caps--through FY21--and then grows it at the same rate in FY22 and FY23.    
** Using CBO inflation assumptions, which are stingier than the President and DoD's tend to be.  True for all real figures in this post.


Friday
Mar152013

Measuring the Navy’s Pacific “Pivot”

Last year, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the U.S. Navy would increase its forces in the Pacific to achieve a roughly 60/40 split between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, respectively. In a new Stimson Center Spotlight, BFAD’s Matt Leatherman attempts to unpack that figure and measure the Navy’s progress towards this goal.

Such a crisp figure clearly symbolizes the firmness of U.S. commitments to allies like Japan and South Korea as well as to potential adversaries like China and North Korea. Still, questions persist about whether the details live up to their billing. Unpacking this statistic is one way to measure the pivot's progress, yet it also makes the message a bit more complicated. Indeed, the Pentagon may emphasize this ratio for its signaling power rather than as a precise statement of fact.

While the 60/40 goal represents the most tangible metric of the military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region, it has several limitations that BFAD has discussed extensively. For one, the adjustment may be less significant than claimed, as more than half of the Navy’s major ships already have a Pacific homeport. Second, it is not clear which ships will change homeport in order to reach the 60 percent mark. Both of these issues point to the larger difficulty of trying to quantify the rebalance, especially given the U.S. Naval Fleet’s flexibility and global nature.

Wednesday
Mar132013

Counting Flags and Generals

In August 2010, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced a series of efficiency initiatives, one of which was the proposed reduction in the number of general and flag officer positions. In March 2011, Secretary Gates identified 102 G/FO positions to be eliminated, including 65 within two years. The goal of this initiative, Gates argued, was to combat the military’s increasing top-heaviness.

As a result of the wars, this department has taken on new missions and responsibilities that have required some of these new senior military and civilian billets. But apart from meeting these genuine war-related needs, we have also seen an acceleration of what Senator John Glenn more than 20 years ago called "brass creep," a situation where personnel of higher and higher rank are assigned to do things that could reasonably be handled by personnel of lower rank.

Unlike many of Gates’ efficiencies, this one is checkable – and in fact has been well checked by Ben Freeman at POGO. As of December 31, 2012, the number of general and flag officers had declined by 31, from 964 to 933. Fifty-eight percent of these have come at the one-star rank, which actually is below the ratio Gates planned (62 percent) but well above one-stars’ share of the G/FO population (47 percent).  Conversely 42 percent of the cuts have come from the two-, three-, and four-star levels. Gates planned for them to only absorb 38 percent, well below their share of G/FOs (53 percent).

 

That leaves us with two conclusions.  First, a roughly 50 percent success rate on the intermediate goal – 31 reductions out of the 65 planned to date – means the pace needs to pick up. Further, cutting one-stars disproportionately to their more senior officers is a questionable approach to addressing the department’s top-heaviness problem. Despite Gates’ efforts, “brass creep” persists.

Wednesday
Mar062013

Ignoring Sequester, but Passing a Bill

The House has now passed its bill for FY13 appropriations. The House version includes an actual appropriations bill for Defense and VA/MILCON with a CR for all other bills and agencies. The Defense and VA/MILCON parts look pretty settled—all the tables in the explanatory statement say ‘Conference’ not ‘House’ and the press release boasts it “has been negotiated by the House and Senate”.  There are several interesting aspects of the bill, but really the most interesting is how normal a bill it is. Most of this bill sets aside all of the brouhaha we’ve been living in for a year and half and worries only about adjusting the President’s request for FY13 to reflect Congressional preferences, what an appropriations bill does in any old year.
 
Still, we do live in this brouhaha and so its worth looking at this bill through that lens:
 
1. The bill does nothing to sequester. There is no blunting the effects or turning it off or changing how it is applied. Nothing. Chairman Rogers’ press release acknowledges that:  “This funding is subject to sequestration, bringing the top-line overall rate of spending in the CR down to the sequestration level of approximately $982 billion.”  The press release promptly obscures that by talking about the defense and VA/MILCON piece as if sequester will not happen, but that is just a rhetorical gimmick:  the defense/VA  refer to pre-sequester levels and the rest refers to post-sequester levels. Both true, but referring to different points in time.
 
2A. The bill meets the caps re-created by the New Year’s deal of security and non-security. CBO in their February update had said that the CR was $6.8B above the security cap. Now, CBO says it exactly meets the $684B cap. To get there the bill in its second to last section requires an across-the-board cut to security of 1/10th of a percent. 1/10th of a percent is not very much money; less than $0.8B in a $684.8B pot, and is done as a rescission only to non-war funding. Still, kind of ironically it uses a mechanism awfully similar to what would have been used to bring the bill back underneath the caps.
 
2B. DoD is getting about $529B when you add together the money it gets both from the defense part and the VA/MILCON part of the bill. That’s about $3B less than FY12, and about $800M more than the President’s request. The appropriators can claim to be flat with FY12 and more than the President because they consider the MILCON section separately, which does most of the cutting from the year before.  That is still less resources the Pentagon is getting overall compared to last year.
 
2C. DoD likely did better under the broader security cap than it would have under the narrower 050, national defense only, cap. Although no one has provided an exact 050 number, 050 other than DoD has recently been about $24B.  And in this bill its probably even more as NNSA got two of the anomalies in the extended CR, increasing nuclear weapons spending by about $350M and nonproliferation spending by $160M more than FY12. If we add that $24B to DoD’s $529B, 050 makes it to $553B and blows right past the $544B 050 cap.
 
2D. As we predicted, that increased DoD spending was paid for by cutting International Affairs. The President’s request had met the security cap at the time but cut DoD by $4B from FY12 to do so. This bill gets to the cap by cutting $4B from the President’s request for 150, International Affairs. (the cap was also $2B lower due to the New Year's deal, so DoD didn’t get all of the President’s request cut back).
 
3. Much of the description of this bill has been about how it gave DoD some relief, or softened the blow of sequester. But that is an overstatement. As we said up front, this bill doesn’t do anything to ameliorate sequester. What it does do is respond to the President’s request rather than just carry forward last year’s funding. And as we noted at the time, the President’s request made really big changes. Maybe most importantly it increased the readiness accounts even as it cut the topline, ensuring we don’t get a hollow force as has happened in past drawdowns. The Pentagon is at fault for confusing some of these issues, as our own Gordon Adams has noted. In their fight to stave off sequester they blurred what would be caused by sequester and what would be caused by operating under a CR. Readiness was their poster child because it had the biggest swing between the PB13 request and the effect of sequester, largely because it had the biggest swing between FY12 and the President's request. Now that the appropriators have updated their bill to the President's request, that swing is gone.  The chart to the right illustrates that this bill is a traditional appropriations bill: it is different than last year but not that different from the President's request.  Compared to FY12, the bill cuts funding from each title by an average of 3.2% (though O&M gets a 6.4% increase). Compared to the President’s request, it increases titles by an average of only 0.3% (O&M is actually cut, but by only 0.8%). This bill plays off the President’s request with adjustments for Congressional oversight and spells out the amounts to be spent on each program, with the same amount of execution flexibility that every defense bill provides.
 
In fact, in the part of the bill maybe most relevant to sequester, the explanatory statement picks up the language the Senate appropriators used last year to define what programs, projects, and activities are: down to the line item for procurement and RDT&E, and at the account level for O&M and MILPERS. That detail defines from what pot the percentage cut by sequester must be taken. In other words, in the part most relevant to sequester, the appropriators made sequester tougher not easier.
 
Now the fight moves to the Senate and Democrats attempt (maybe) to pass omnibus appropriations for the other government agencies and not just DoD (including State and the other international accounts), and possibly the President’s bid to waive sequester.

 

Thanks to Matt Leatherman for his help on this post.

Monday
Mar042013

Ups and Downs of O&M

House appropriators are out with their proposal for 2013 defense, military construction, and veterans’ affairs appropriations (with the rest of government riding along as a CR).  They approved the President’s request to cut the Pentagon’s topline while still adding to the readiness accounts.  Calling Operations and Maintenance “essential funding for key readiness programs,” they permitted it to grow by $10.4 billion above FY12 (total $173.5) and other accounts to shrink by the same: military pay (-$3.6B), research and development (-2.5B), and procurement (-4.2B) – again relative to FY12 levels.

The Pentagon in recent weeks has complained not just about sequestration but about the hit these readiness accounts were going to take because of the CR. Last week Gordon Adams explained this emphasis on O&M:

Planning was particularly critical for what is called the operations and maintenance, or O&M, account. The O&M budget -- which makes up over 40 percent of the Pentagon's total budget -- covers everything from the costs of sailing ships, to driving tanks, to flying planes, to maintaining bases, fixing equipment, training and educating the force, to, especially, the salaries of the 800,000 civilians who work for DOD. It is particularly vulnerable to sequester because other large Pentagon expenses will not be cut through sequestration. Military personnel and their benefits (including retirees) are exempt under the law, and dollars already obligated to contracts shield contractors from the near-term impact of sequester.

What's more, DOD had actually wanted to grow the O&M account, asking for a 6 percent increase when it submitted its FY 2013 budget request. And, adding insult to injury, during the first quarter of this fiscal year, the Pentagon actually spent its operations and maintenance funding at the higher rate it had requested -- not the FY 2012 level funded in the continuing resolution. "Silly us," [Secretary Panetta] said of that mistake. That's why March 27 represents a real reckoning point for the Pentagon.

If the House bill is passed and signed by the President, some of that problem goes away as O&M levels will be close to the requested levels.  Of course, there’s still sequester, which would take 7.8 percent back off (see pdf pp. 8 & 26).  In the House bill’s case, that would mean an O&M total of $160B, or $3B below FY12 (see pdf pg. 45).

Wednesday
Feb272013

Revisiting the QDDR and CSO

 

Several weeks ago The Economist’s farewell to Secretary Clinton included an evaluation of Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) and especially the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations(CSO):

One of the review’s most important results has been the creation of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), a member of the new J family.

We agree.  After the QDDR was published Laura Hall, then a fellow at Stimson, wrote that:

[The Coordinator for Stabilization and Reconstruction] will be turned into a bureau (Conflict and Stabilization Operations) that reports to an empowered Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.  While technically a demotion, the Coordinator has never really had the advantages of an “S/” office, so this clarity is welcome as is the co-location of operational capabilities such as INL and PRM.

In addition to that, Russell Rumbaugh and Alison Giffen recently advised the new administration on a few pragmatic steps it can take in institutionalizing CSO. One of the notable suggestions is to:

Continue to invest in the new CSO bureau and evolving CRC (Civilian Response Corps). CSO and CRC should be given appropriate resources and running room to refine their unique role as a US civilian capability with expeditionary reach and rapid response capabilities.

The QDDR doesn’t come up a lot these days.  Not only is The Economist correct to highlight it as part of Secretary Clinton’s tenure, it’s also correct that CSO can meaningfully improve the State Department’s role of State Department.

 

Monday
Feb252013

Morning Edition Features Defense Spending Survey

Over the past few weeks the Pentagon and the White House have turned up the pressure on Congress to make a deal to stave off the automatic sequestration cuts. Speaking on NPR’s Morning Edition last Thursday, BFAD’s Matt Leatherman noted that the public may be more comfortable with reductions in defense spending than some officials understand or are prepared to admit.

The more that Americans learn about their defense budget, the more aware they become that not everything is equal. When you have a chance to really grapple with the material on your own, you perhaps feel more comfortable in saying, 'I'm prepared to prioritize this issue and accept more risk over here.

In its report, NPR cited our May 2012 study “Consulting the American People on National Defense Spending,” done in collaboration with the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for Public Integrity. As Matt pointed out on Morning Edition, there were some partisan differences among respondents, yet a majority of both Republicans and Democrats favored an overall reduction.  That finding is important, reiterated by a supplemental paper that came out last July, and we’re excited that it continues to show up in the conversation.

 

Friday
Feb222013

State Joins the Fray

If there ever was a White House gag order on non-defense officials raising the sequester alarm, it’s over now.  John Kerry tackled the subject squarely in his first public address as Secretary of State:

I’m fully aware that the biggest challenge to American foreign policy anywhere is in the hands not of diplomats, but of policymakers in Congress… In these days of the looming budget sequester, that everyone actually wants to avoid — or most — we cannot be strong in the world unless we’re strong at home. … Let’s reach a responsible agreement that prevents these senseless cuts.

State had been far more reserved than Defense until now but, like Defense, the sequester process is a big part of State’s problem.  The difficulty of managing cuts that are made indiscriminately truly is common across government.

Thursday
Feb212013

Strengthening Diplomatic Capacity

U.S. diplomatic personnel serve a critical and often understated role in the development and implementation of foreign policy. But, as Nicholas Kralev discusses in Foreign Policy, diplomats frequently do not receive the education and training necessary to perform their duties. Kralev cites the example of a young Foreign Service officer sent to Abu Dhabi to run a major State Department partnership initiative, despite a complete lack of training or experience relevant for the position.

Why did the State Department send a diplomat without the necessary skills -- and more importantly, without any training -- to a critical posting in the most volatile region in the world on the eve of the Arab uprisings? Could the U.S. response to those uprisings have been more effective had American diplomats there been better trained?

Kralev goes on to say that these kinds of experiences are not uncommon within the Foreign Service. We addressed the long-term deficiencies and shortages in U.S. diplomatic capability last October in our report “Diplomacy in a Time of Scarcity,” done with the American Academy of Diplomacy and the Cox Foundation. We found that while the State Department has made some strides in recent years, its training capability remains “woefully inadequate,” particularly in the area of long-term professional development. Much of the training in this area is provided by military schools, such as the National and Service War Colleges.

Every review of US foreign policy and especially the personnel who execute it has emphasized the importance of training, including the administration’s own Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. And growth has been achieved. But much of that growth has gone to processing the increased hires of the past few years, and the State department still does not have the positions dedicated to training necessary for it to lead foreign policy efforts for the United States.

Our report recommends the addition of 160 positions specifically for just such training.

Wednesday
Feb202013

Sequester, Through the Lens of a January Vote

A few weeks ago Politico’s David Rogers got a defense budget scoop that even we’d missed: “as many as 157 House Republicans voted Jan. 15 to… tak[e] nearly $10 billion from the Pentagon to help pay for [Hurricane Sandy] disaster aid.”  South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney’s amendment is even more interesting since its savings would have come in a manner very similar to sequester – across-the-board at the program, project, and activity level.

But what does that vote mean?  Is the sequester scheduled for next Friday more or less likely because of it?

“More likely,” says one school of thought.  Two out of every three House Republicans voted for an amendment that took approximately half its savings from a sequester-like cut to defense, and they knew it.  The point was driven home in floor debate by Hal Rogers and Nita Lowey, the appropriations’ committee chair and ranking member respectively, who both cited the impact on defense in their opposition.  This interpretation inspired Politico’s lede, which called the vote “just a taste of what’s to come March 1.”

Yet another school of thought says that this vote is neutral, at best, about the Republican party’s willingness to countenance defense sequester, and perhaps evidence that it is not.  Politico’s article catalyzed this point as well, though without seeming to notice it.  As Rogers reported, “these were ‘free’ votes in that the GOP could be confident that the Sandy aid amendments slashing defense would not succeed.”  To state that more bluntly, 71 House Republicans opposed a symbolic measure to cut spending, either because of their own disapproval or under pressure from party leadership.  If a third already won’t take the smaller step, how many more might fall away if the stakes really mattered?

Unsatisfying as this answer is, the January 15th vote is a single data point that almost certainly will be meaningful, but only within the context still to come.  In the interim, though, there seems to be plenty of context that momentum is growing for defense-cutting Republicans, and that Mick Mulvaney is at the front of it.

Friday
Feb152013

The Pentagon's PR War

Last week in the Washington Post Walter Pincus tackled the Army’s embrace of “Inform and Influence Activities” tailored to foreign audiences.

Perhaps it’s a step forward if we are using PR to win wars rather than more guns, bombs or missiles. But there needs to be more public explanation of what all this involves, who is doing it and the results so far. The last step I remember Congress taking was to reduce Defense Department spending on strategic communications and ask for a more detailed explanation of such programs.

Within this category of “Inform and Influence” is a subset that BFAD would call ‘public diplomacy-like activities.’  Last fall we explored the Pentagon’s increasing public diplomacy role in “The Pentagon as Pitchman,” and this report provides some of the details Pincus is seeking (see pages 18-22).

The chart to the right shows funding levels for the Defense Department’s information-based public diplomacy-like activities. Included in these activities is the Trans Regional Web Initiative (TRWI), which the Senate Armed Services Committee described as an “initiative under which USSOCOM establishes and maintains news and information websites in support of the geographic combatant commands’ countering violent extremism initiatives.” The Pentagon has not institutionalized public diplomacy to the same extent as its civilian counterparts, but the TRWI demonstrates that much of this work is being done at the SOCOM and COCOM level.

Thursday
Feb142013

Waste Is in the Eye of the Beholder

We’re all against cutting waste.  Respondents to the defense spending survey we ran last spring, together with the Program for Public Consultation and Center for Public Integrity, made that point more clearly than any other.  Over 80 percent of them, both as a group and when separated out by party, were convinced by an argument that began, “There is a lot of waste in the national defense budget.”

The problem comes in trying to label exactly what spending is wasteful.  Nowhere is the axiom about one person’s trash being another’s treasure truer than in the defense budget.  Each line is there because someone defends it.  The implication is that “waste” often is a euphemism for “someone else’s priority.”

But don’t take it from me.  Dr. Alice Rivlin, a true budget master and patron of ours for her 2010 debt reduction report, addressed the point in response to a question I posed at a recent Brookings event:

…waste is in the eye of the beholder… we need to go beyond what’s purely waste -- everybody’s against waste and fraud and abuse -- and that’s probably a pretty narrow category if you’re going to get full agreement that this is really wasteful. But low priority is a much broader category and does relate to things like the perception of the threat and is, I think, more productive to talk about.

Cutting a budget is hard in part because every single change comes at the expense of someone’s priority.  With sequester again approaching, we’re hearing a lot of frustration about how terrible of a process it is and how many better choices we could make.  And both are true.  But no one’s choices are the same, and we’ve heard far less from organizations willing to surrender their priority.  In that light, it’s easier to appreciate Congress’ reluctance to move from “everything on the table” to choosing who gets “served up” and paying the political tab.

Monday
Feb112013

A Tax on War

Given U.S. support of French intervention in Mali, and the looming possibility of further action in Syria, the U.S. must rethink how it pays for military operations. BFAD’s Russell Rumbaugh argues in today’s New York Times that Congress should institute a surcharge for any military action requiring additional funding above appropriated levels.

Since the Budget Control Act already caps military spending, there is an easy way to implement the surcharge: any spending over the caps would require it. If we felt the need to use the military and could do so under the spending caps, as the Obama administration did in 2011 responding to the earthquake in Japan and the uprising in Libya, no surcharge would be necessary. But if military action required supplemental financing, any amount over the caps would be offset with new revenue raised by an automatic surcharge on taxes.

Such action, Rumbaugh continues, would give the president greater flexibility in the decision to use force, as well as promote an honest discussion on the merits of military action.

Every argument the Obama administration makes for military action would explicitly include a call for increased taxes, forcing the question of whether the stakes in the military situation are worth the cost. If the American people agree they are worth it, the president will get both the political support and financing he needs.

National security decisions can no longer be separated from economic realities. By instituting a surcharge on war, the U.S. would still be able to pursue its vital national security interests, without wrecking its finances in the process.

Thursday
Feb072013

Same Old Way: US Security Assistance and Mali

 

“We didn’t spend probably the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and a military ethos.”

The General said not enough was done to convince Malian recruits that “when you put on the uniform of your nation, you accept the responsibility to defend and protect that nation, to abide by the legitimate civilian authority that has been established, to conduct yourselves according to the rule of law.”

“We didn’t do that to the degree that we needed to,” he added.

On Jan 25th, the BBC News reported that the US military commander in Africa admitted mistakes were made in US support to Malian troops in the last decade. The exact mistake Gordon Adams identified in his report of 2011, A New Way Forward: Rebalancing Security Assistance Programs and Authorities, co-authored with Becky Williams:

The focus of the security approach is US military requirements, present and operating, either withdrawing or avoiding deployment. Because of this focus, there is a serious risk of disconnect between strengthening security forces in a country and its long-term governance.

…Despite persistent US efforts to train foreign armed forces to respond to civilian control and respect human rights, there is a long history of US-trained forces, once empowered, violating both principles.

Gordon Adams described in Foreign Policy how the US slid into relying on military assistance to Africa, repeating this mistake of  un-strategic, un-evaluated set of programs.


Monday
Feb042013

The Defense Dip in Context

Our own Gordon Adams provided some critical context to last week's news that the GDP had contracted in the fourth quarter of calendar year 2012 because of a particularly large decrease in defense spending. 

After all, there is an historical pattern here. Every third quarter of the calendar year (which is the last quarter of the federal fiscal year) defense consumption goes up. Obligating and spending resources at the end of a fiscal year is a way of ensuring the services can get them spent and that they can justify the next year's budget to Congress: we really needed that money; don't take it back or cut us next year.

Then, in the first quarter of the next fiscal year (which is the fourth quarter of the calendar year) defense spending slides from the leap upward in the previous quarter. Time to catch the Pentagon's breath, reset spending, and start again.

There is nothing new to this pattern. The Commerce Department data make it clear that this happens during the last two quarters of every fiscal year.

Gordon goes on to point out the threat of sequester may have driven part of the dip, and even more of the dip likely comes from the fact that the defense builddown has already been here for three years, a point often neglected in the conversation. 

Tuesday
Jan292013

QDR in Fiscal Context

Last Friday the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted a number of defense experts and industry professionals to discuss preparations for the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). BFAD’s Gordon Adams spoke on a panel discussing the fiscal environment in which the QDR will take place. Adams emphasized that, regardless of whether or not proposed sequestration cuts take place in March, the U.S. is in a long-term defense drawdown similar to that which followed the end of the Cold War in the 1990s. The nature of this drawdown will be driven by resources more than the fine details of strategy:

Defense is a residual. It is a consequence of decisions that are being made elsewhere in a different framework. That's largely because we left Iraq, we're coming out of Afghanistan, the political system has shifted its attention to jobs, the economy, debts, deficit. That's the political context within which the defense budget decision is going to be made. That is not particularly good news if what you want to do is hold the line or increase defense spending.

Adams continued that the incoming Secretary of Defense should accept this resource-driven reality and plan the QDR with this perspective in mind. In light of the current fiscal uncertainty and the unlikelihood of a grand budget deal, the Department of Defense should prepare for a number of possible outcomes.

Stimson’s November report, “A New US Defense Strategy for a New Era” takes just such an approach. This report offers a possible blueprint for the QDR by illustrating how strategy might be implemented at four alternative budget scenarios. If the QDR did likewise, the Pentagon could use it as an exercise to realistically plan how it will adapt to various budgetary levels in areas such as end strength, force structure, acquisition, research and development, and operations.

Thursday
Jan242013

Security Assistance Authority Versus Practice 

GAO recently dug into the Pentagon’s authorities, policies, and procedures for security force assistance and compared that framework to the State Department’s involvement in the process.  It found a sizable role for the State Department, both in statute and norms:

 We found that DOD receives input from State for the seven authorities we reviewed that can yield security force assistance benefits: four required concurrence of the  Secretary of State or the Chief of Mission; one required consultation between DOD and  State; and two relied on coordination mechanisms other than concurrence or consultation.

 Exactly these sorts of dynamics inspired our own Gordon Adams, together with Rebecca Williams, in writing the 2011 report “A New Way Forward: Rebalancing Security Assistance Programs and Authorities.”  But their analysis contrasts with GAO's in asking about what actually happens, as opposed to what is supposed to happen, and their findings differ notably as a consequence:

Most security assistance authorities and programs are stove-piped, operating with little reference to other authorities and programs. The agencies involved, primarily State and DOD, have their own views of the requirement and their own answers as to how to meet that need.

This is where the budget’s impact is most transparent.  When views differ between a defense institution and the international affairs institutions it dwarfs, the resolution tends to favor the heavyweight’s view of the mission irrespective of the concuring or consultative requirements in statute.  Both GAO's and Stimson's reports contribute valuably to the analysis of that interplay, and we're proud of the essential context that ours adds to theirs.

Wednesday
Jan232013

USMC Kicks Off QDR at Stimson

Yesterday Stimson's Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense project hosted Major General Kenneth F. McKenzie for the Marine Corps' first public statement on the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).  MajGen McKenzie began his remarks by noting the influence of budget circumstances on this QDR, and the point became thematic throughout the event.  Addressing missions that form the military's "connective tissue," like cyber or special operations, McKenzie tied together many of the issues at hand:

The [QDR] model that we've talked about [today], for better or for worse, is a veiled fight for resources [among the services], and its hard then to give adequate justice, perhaps, to those things that make everything possible.

How the services relate to one another through the January 2012 strategic guidance, how those relationships are resourced, and how relationships and resources come together to form the joint force all are issues that this QDR effort clearly will face.  We're excited to have kicked off the conversation, honored that MajGen McKenzie and the Marine Corps chose us as the venue to do it, and looking forward to conversations like these enriching the 2014 QDR exercise.