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“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


Budget In Action (er, “Inaction”?)

Congress only has 10 business days before its members take a 6-week summer recess to return to their home districts and reconnect with voters. Congress is then back in session on September 13, with only two weeks before the end of the fiscal year and a lot of pressure to get back to their districts for final campaigning in advance of mid-term elections.

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Deficits, Debt, and U.S. Global Engagement: Maintaining National Security While Lowering the Debt

This Stimson Brief is written by Gordon Adams and is available in its entirety here.

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Yemen: More at Stake than Just Funding

Congress is set to authorize the Department of Defense (DoD) to spend up to $75 million to provide equipment and training to Yemen’s counterterrorism forces, housed in the Ministry of the Interior. This is at odds with current policy, which focuses the Pentagon on military-to-military cooperation rather than on military assistance to foreign police.

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Gordon Adams testifies before Tierney pane

Gordon Adams testified today before the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The hearing, titled “Rethinking our Defense Budget: Achieving National Security through Sustainable Spending,” features five experts accessing how the austere fiscal environment will affect the defense budget.

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Basing Headaches: Why US Overseas Deployments are Becoming Increasingly Contentious

Kyrgyzstan’s Manas Transit Center is one of the little-known logistics hubs that make operations in Afghanistan possible. Though critical to the U.S., it is a nation-wide controversy in Kyrgyzstan.

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Time to discipline defense spending

Three weeks remain before Congress' month-long recess, and that short time will be filled heavily by the FY2011 defense appropriations markups and the pending war supplemental request.  This focus offers an important opportunity for Congress to begin the process of disciplining defense missions and budgets, an inevitable outcome of historically high costs and waning political support.  In an op-ed published in today's edition of Politico, Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman explain this inevitability and how best to adjust to it.

by Dr. Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman

An absence of restraint and a failure to set priorities, as revealed in the Quadrennial Defense Review, has put the Pentagon on a collision course with fiscal realities and a changing political environment.

Now is the time for Congress and the Pentagon to take a closer look at the military’s missions, make a realistic risk calculation and reshape a smaller and better tailored force.

House defense appropriators are poised to take an important step in this direction with their coming markup of the Pentagon’s budget request. Indications are that Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, may cut the defense budget — though President Barack Obama and the Senate Budget Committee had exempted it from the larger freeze on discretionary accounts.

However, this would be only the first step in dealing with the two tidal waves bearing down on the defense budget. The Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review ignored both. It did nothing to acknowledge the nation’s grave budget woes or the timeline for U.S. withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Independent Review Panel, charged with assessing the QDR, is expected to put the Pentagon’s failure to prioritize missions atop the list of critiques in its report, which is expected to be released in two weeks. Indeed, it must.

The Pentagon, rather than properly constraining missions, simply layered new missions on top of old and gave everything equal priority.

The mission, as laid out in the QDR, seems boundless. On one end, it includes deterrence, conventional wars, patrolling the world’s oceans and defending the United States. On the other end are counterinsurgency, stabilization (nation-building), fighting a terrorist organization and aiding security forces worldwide.

Complicating all this is an assertion that the military should accept no risk in executing any of these missions. This means an enormous demand for standing, active-duty forces stationed worldwide — and soaring defense budgets follow.

The lack of planning and budgetary discipline ignores the country’s economic problems and flagging political support for high defense budgets. Congressional appropriators must face down these fiscal and political tidal waves and impose constraints now.

The first wave is the growing concern with deficits and debt. Debt as a share of gross domestic product, estimated at 64 percent by the Office of Management and Budget, is higher than any since 1951. Left unaddressed, it could equal GDP by the end of the decade.

Our gradual withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan is creating the other wave. Unrestricted war spending drives the defense budget indiscipline that we see today.

A disappointing outcome, combined with our withdrawal, could further reduce support for these unprecedented budgets.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is confronting this situation with talk of restraint. But he actually plans for real budget growth. It falls to Congress, therefore, to manage these tidal waves.

A good model would be the last big cut in defense spending from 1989 to 1998. Then, as now, the United States confronted serious political change and a need for debt reduction.

Congresses and administrations of both parties responded by agreeing to a package of spending and revenue changes that put everything on the table. This comprehensiveness was a key to their success.

Congress must learn equally from failures and successes. Policies that pursue operating efficiencies to reap more for less are one of these failures. Acquisition reform has come and gone many times, for example, without ever leaving a trail of savings behind it.

The fact that one department, owning half the government’s discretionary budget, cannot meet normal audit standards is appalling. But that condition seems chronic.

The way to really pay less is to do less. Congress and the Pentagon must address the issues of mission priorities and managing risk. Fiscal responsibility and good planning demand a clear statement of U.S. interests and values, an accounting of the challenges and opportunities involved, a precise assessment of the civilian and defense missions and a setting of priorities.

A mission like stabilization, which is more remote from U.S. interests and addresses lesser risks, should have lower budgetary priority. We need to shore up our civilian institutions to address these issues.

Freezing next year’s defense spending, a crucial first step, can lead to a reduction of at least $10 billion in the pending budget.

This is a critical year for congressional appropriators to take this step. They must signal to the Pentagon that help is not on the way.

Now is the time for real budgetary discipline — and for the Pentagon to revisit and prioritize its missions. The longer it is delayed, the more painful it will be for the Pentagon to adjust to our new political and fiscal environment.

Gordon Adams is professor of international relations at American University’s School of International Service and a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. Matthew Leatherman is a research associate at the Stimson Center and contributor to the Budget Insight blog.


Diplomacy in the 21st Century

It has almost become received wisdom that American diplomacy must change to keep pace with a seemingly ever expanding foreign policy agenda and certainly a vastly expanding field of players in the foreign affairs arena, governmental and non-governmental, state actors and non-state.

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What Is a "Strong" Defense?

The most common response to the Sustainable Defense Task Force's report has been some sympathy for our argument that military spending should be subjected to the same scrutiny that should be applied to other government spending. There are still a fair number of people, however, who share our concern about the deficit, but who counter "But I want a strong defense." Who doesn't?

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Debt, national security, and our evolving perception of the two

Americans are of two minds about terrorism.  One fixates on the shocking nature of the attack, the stark contrast in values it represents, and the insecurity of knowing that someone somewhere has the stone-willed resolve to do them the most brutal harm if ever given the chance.  Another lambasts the expense to which we’ve gone for disappointing results.  Costs include a new federal department and intelligence system, military commitments from Mauritania to Mindanao, and a dramatically-restructured legal code for national security.

Our conflicted attitudes were exposed sharply in a recent Gallup poll.  Respondents labeled two threats as the most serious to the U.S.’ future well-being.  Terrorism is one.  The federal debt is the other.  Only a rounding error separates the two.

The threat of a terror attack undoubtedly is the most probable threat to our national security mounted by anyone outside of our borders.  Replays of airplanes plowing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have seared that risk into our minds.  Degraded as the Al Qaeda organization is, we are reminded routinely that its franchisees are still active and capable, from Najibullah Zazi in Denver to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab over Detroit.  This threat will demand serious, concerted attention for the foreseeable future.

The threat of terror attack, however, requires context.  It is not the biggest threat we as a country have faced.  Global nuclear annihilation on a hair-trigger is impassable in that category, and terror attack is nowhere close.  Nor is it the most probable threat to our national security today.  Federal debt stands in that place.

The Office of Management and Budget estimates that publicly-held debt will reach 63.6% of GDP this year, its highest level since fiscal year 1951 and more than 15 points higher than it was when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor (47%).  Although historically high by U.S. standards, this debt burden is far below that of Greece (113%) and Italy  (115%) – but not for long.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, after accounting for likely policy changes, we’ll be in that neighborhood in about 15 years. (See Figure A-2)

Debt of this severity challenges our national security in two related ways.  Most overtly, it permanently displaces other federal spending, including defense.  Lower defense spending is a virtue today, after a decade in which we shattered the Cold War cost ceiling, but the future is unpredictable.  Nothing suggests an upcoming need for defense spending this high, yet those future budgetary decisions must remain at our discretion.  Being forced to pay interest on record debt would reduce our discretion and the security that comes with it.

More generally, a vigorous economy is the foundation on which national security is built.  Not only will discretionary government spending wither as debt grows, so too will the credit opportunities on which our private sector depends.  Such a constrained economy will build fewer of the business relationships that preempt conflict and will lose the technological ingenuity on which our defenses depend.

Accounting for these facts throws the Gallup poll into a troubling light.  Equating today’s  threats of terror attacks and federal debt reveals just how disproportionately we focus on the near-term and the sensational at the expense of long-term, structural problems.  We are fighting a lesser adversary while the true enemy flanks us from behind.  Al Qaeda’s damage tally includes more than just the lives lost, infrastructure destroyed, and civil liberties foregone – it also includes spending ourselves into the ground even as the economy is flailing.  Gallup data aside, today federal debt is a fundamentally greater challenge to our national security than terrorism.


Demographic Demands: Long-term solutions to long-term problems in Afghanistan

Afghanistan owns the attention of policymakers throughout the national security apparatus.  A change in military command and a recent cut to aid spending have forced our overall strategy back onto the discussion table. This time around, our strategy must account for Afghanistan’s frequently-overlooked youth bulge.

The Afghan population nearly quadrupled over the past 60 years.  The result is a very youthful country – 43% of their current population is under the age of 14. Knowing that children are the future, the youth in this bulge will define Afghanistan even as we try to shape it.

Such an imbalance promises to exacerbate already-rampant unemployment, leading to social and political dissatisfaction. At the same time, success for the American operation rests largely on the Afghan people supporting, or at least accepting, it.  Building that base despite these troubling demographics is an inherently long-term problem requiring a long-term solution.

That long-term solution can be found in the very kind of development aid cut last week by Rep. Nita Lowey, chair of the House Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations Appropriations.  Rep. Lowey cut $3.9 billion in foreign aid funding from Afghanistan amid reports of corruption and lack of accountability for American dollars in Afghanistan. Though the rationale behind this action is valid, the choice itself is misguided for reasons explained by Budget Insight among others.

Afghanistan presents numerous challenges and issues that require more than one kind of solution for the foreseeable future. Military operations cannot help the fact that the number of school-age children in Afghanistan—a number that grew by over 3% in 2009—greatly exceed the capacity of the limited educational facilities currently available. As the Stimson Center’s demographer-in-residence Richard Cincotta wrote in Foreign Policy magazine last fall, “even if the Taliban stopped destroying schools and obstructing attendance, the government would face a momentous challenge in furnishing classrooms and teachers for this burgeoning generation.”  That’s a very big and unlikely “if.”

Approaching the issue from the opposite perspective, this youth bulge helps explain why the Taliban encounters little difficulty in attracting new recruits to their cause.  When the educational system and labor force cannot handle such an imbalanced population, the Taliban offers a viable alternative.

As a result, the demographic imbalance in Afghanistan ought to be a more prominent concern in developing our strategy there. In order to avoid dealing with a far more challenging Afghanistan in the future, the U.S. needs to put more funding—not less—into establishing long-term solutions today. Education lies at the heart of a thriving democracy. To even hope of seeing genuine democratic development in Afghanistan means that we have to support and enable the expansion of local educational infrastructure so that this hope has a fighting chance of becoming a reality.

This is not about creating American curricula in Afghanistan; rather, it is about facilitating a central component of the democratic system that we ostensibly aim to establish. A glance at the breakdown of the population captures the extreme nature of the population imbalance and how it will progress over the next few decades. Long-term problems require long-term solutions, and the solution here is development aid directed at addressing Afghanistan’s “youth bulge” and the challenges that it will inevitable cause in the years to come.  Rep. Lowey would be well-advised to restore it.


Fact Sheet: 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review

The 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) lacks the prioritization of missions and assessment of risk fundamentally required by the U.S. government. Wrapping an ever-broader mission set into the Pentagon’s remit and maintaining a zero-tolerance policy for risk aggravates budgetary indiscipline. The country cannot afford such unconstrained spending or the lack of meaningful strategy that facilitates it.

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Gordon Adams Featured on NPR

If overspending now endangers U.S. security, is it in part because the country is spending too much on security? This was just one of the questions posed during a Morning Edition segment on the National Public Radio on Monday, during which the expertise of Dr. Gordon Adams was prominently featured. Press play below to hear the segment in its entirety.

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Don’t Blame USAID alone for Corruption in Afghanistan

Last week, the House appropriations subcommittee markup on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs cut foreign aid to Afghanistan for FY2011. It did so because that aid allegedly is a source of corruption. Congress did not reciprocate by calling for a reduction in military spending.

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Coordinators Today, Reform Tomorrow

CBO recently released its cost estimate of a Senate bill passed by the SFRC that would authorize $2 billion over the FY2010-2011 time period to support Haiti reconstruction. This bill also creates a Senior Coordinator of the United States Government for Haiti.

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Stimson Brief: The Future of S/CRS

As the long-awaited Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR) proceeds through its summer schedule, there has been a lot of speculation about the future of one particular part of the State Department: the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS). This office was created six years ago in the wake of Iraq to coordinate all parts of the government in planning for and responding to complex crises overseas and to provide additional personnel who could deploy quickly.

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Spending smarter by sharing the burden with NATO

All the world’s strategies for saving money boil down to two ideas: spend less by doing less, or spend less by doing smarter.  “Doing smarter,” of course, is far less painful than doing less, but finding the efficiencies that make this possible is a much bigger creative challenge.  One of the few clear ways to do this in the world of national security is through alliance-based burden sharing.  (Graphical data from CRS.)

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen drove this home last week in a speech dedicated to the implications of budget constraint on NATO policy.  Acknowledging that “all Allies are having to cope with the serious effects of the economic crisis,” Rasmussen concluded that “by sharing the burden within NATO, individual Allies can achieve a far greater level of security than they could achieve through any national approach – and at far lower cost.”

Secretary-General Rasmussen’s conclusion is spot on.  Sharing the burden in Afghanistan under the auspices of NATO’s International Security Force Assistance (ISAF) mission, for instance, nearly halves the troop requirement for the U.S.  102,554 NATO troops were in Afghanistan in April, but only 62,415 (61%) of those are American.

ISAF, of course, is just the most visible example of effective burden sharing.  NATO’s Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Dialogue programs influence North African states and former Warsaw Pact members toward internal and regional stability, democratic development, and civilian control of the military.  And, looking forward, the recently-concluded Albright-van der Veer Commission suggested even broader burden sharing, including in the costly areas of missile defense and maritime security (see pg. 10).

These burden sharing opportunities, and the spending efficiencies they generate, have not escaped the Defense Department’s attention.  Secretary Gates recently urged NATO allies to maintain their resolve, and their spending, for near-term challenges.  (See Gates’ June comments in London and Brussels.)  Unstated in this push is the reality that each dollar spent on NATO by the Europeans is a dollar the Pentagon doesn’t have to find itself.

Politically uncomfortable as that reality is, Secretary Gates is right to capitalize on it.  In fact, fiscal constraint requires even more.  Today’s historically high defense budgets are unsustainable in the face of escalating debt and ever more unnecessary as the U.S moves toward withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.  In fact, the fiscal constraint and defense discipline that we need requires doing less and doing it smarter, in cooperation with NATO and others.  Prioritizing missions is the order of the day.

Burden-sharing with NATO and others can make priority setting somewhat less painful.  Missions that we otherwise couldn’t afford can be retained at far less cost, on the condition that decision-making authority in these areas is diluted among our allies.  That cost is outweighed by the benefits in many instances, but not in all.

A critical decision must be made when the cost to a mission in terms of decision authority outweighs the benefit of greater remit and influence.  Can and should the U.S. resource and implement this mission unilaterally, or is this mission undoable or undesirable?  We must be prepared to fund and implement a select few missions unilaterally, especially those that involve the defense of our territory and sovereignty.  We also must be prepared to jettison a number of other missions that are beyond our means, unrealistic, lesser priority, or all three.

It is in this area, the relinquishing of missions, that defense budget policy is most intractable.  Yet we cannot afford to cling to everything – and NATO burden-sharing is not going to be the panacea to this problem.  Instead, NATO’s burden-sharing impact is apparent on the margins, allowing us to retain influence in missions that are not quite affordable on our own but still high enough priority to warrant attention.  This is where we spend less by doing smarter – and below that standard is where we must start to spend less by simply doing less.


Defense Cuts Must Be on the Table: A Series of Analyses

Stephen Walt’s recent blog piece asks many thoughtful questions about how the defense and international affairs budget – and our national security - might be affected given the austere fiscal environment of the upcoming year.

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Fact Sheet: Interagency National Security Reform

Collaboration among U.S. government agencies is insufficient. Accomplishing our national security goals in the face of an increasingly complex international environment and impending fiscal austerity requires the situation to improve. Those improvements can be measured, in part, by the clarity of national missions set by the President and by the rebalancing of roles between the State and Defense Department.

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Haiti Relief Efforts Hindered by Excessive Bureaucracy

The words excessive fragmentation, stalled, disagreement, and difficult odds are not terms one wants describing a massive disaster relief effort, but they are all over this week’s report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding the slowed relief efforts in Haiti following the January 12 earthquake that devastated the country.

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McChrystal-izing a Problem: The Militarization of American Statecraft

General Stanley McChrystal’s candid disrespect for civilian leadership is being treated as an issue of bad judgment and personality. But this episode reveals a much deeper dilemma for American statecraft, one that has long roots but has reached near crisis proportions over the past ten years: the gradual erosion of civilian leadership and the militarization of our foreign and security policy.

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