Saturday, August 13, 2011

Secretary Panetta’s First Press Briefing on US Defense Expenditure



As shown in the above video, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who succeeded the position from Robert Gates this June, did the first press briefing on August 4 to warn against further cuts in defense spending. Panetta was expected to be a cost cutter of defense as the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under the Clinton administration. However, wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, have led him to abstain from further cut in military budget (“Leon Panetta warns against Pentagon budget cuts”; San Francisco Chronicle; August 5, 2011).

As President Barack Obama and the Republican Party reached an agreement on debt ceiling, it is time to discuss how much expenditure is to be cut in which area. Defense spending is no exception, and Republicans, notably Senator John Kyl, denounce that Democrat proposal of a 500 billion dollar automatic cut in a decade from 2013 would be irresponsible and weak on defense. In view of the forthcoming presidential election, Republican attack on the proposed defense expenditure reduction is being intensified. Meanwhile, Secretary Panetta spoke against his own party in his first press briefing (“Threatened Defense Cuts in Debt Deal Could Loom Over 2012 Race”; Bloomberg News; August 5, 2011). Also, Panetta urged tax increase and spending cuts in other areas like Medicare and social security for necessary savings. It is quite noteworthy that defense spending has been on the rise since 2001 even without wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Secretary Panetta says that a drastic cut “would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military’s ability to protect the nation.” It is expected that military benefits and increasingly sophisticated weaponry system push defense spending upward (“Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warns against more cuts in Pentagon budget”; Washington Post; August 5, 2011).

However, congressional debates are not simply Democrat-Republican duels. Defense budget splits the Republican as well. While Tea Party libertarians focus on tax reduction, neoconservatives support strong military power. In view of inter and intra party rifts, Senator John McCain proposed to reduce tax breaks as a preemptive strike against defense cuts (“Defense spending in Washington spotlight”; San Francisco Chronicle; August 7, 2011). Above all, the economy is supposed to be the primary determinant in 2012 election, and it will place significant influence on defense budget debates (“Will Obama be reelected? The economy could hold the answer”; Washington Post; August 6, 2011).

Having seen the overview of Secretary Panetta’s first briefing on defense spending, I would like to mention opinions among national security experts. As the bipartisan agreement on the Debt Ceiling Deal was reached, Resident Fellow Thomas Donnelly and Resident Scholar Gary Schmitt, both at the American Enterprise Institute, argue that it is time to discuss the defense budget. They insist that a weak push on defense will alienate the military, which will eventually hurt conservative bases for the next election. Also, they urge Tea Party libertarians to balance a small government and a strong defense, and not to let the country run by a president who prefers to "lead from behind" (“The (Raw) Deal on Defense”; Weekly Standard; August 3, 2011).

Furthermore, I would like to introduce a highly recommended article by Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, to refute far left liberals. In this article, Boot articulates his support for Panetta, and makes lucid and strong arguments against a leading advocate for Little Americanism Fareed Zakaria, Editor-at-Large of Time (“Cutting Defense Spending Could Hasten America’s Decline as a World Power”; Commentary; August 4, 2011). Arguing against Zakaria’s recent column calling for a drastic cut of defense spending (“Why defense spending should be cut”; Washington Post; August 4, 2011), Boot makes the case for maintaining US military power from the following points.

Even though including war expenditure for Afghanistan and Iraq, the total cost of national defense accounts for just 5.1% of GDP, which is lower than 8.1% for Social Security and Medicare, and around 7% defense spending during the Cold War. More importantly, Boot criticizes Zakaria for dismissing military benefits and high tech weaponry systems when comparing defense expenditure today and during the Korean War and the Eisenhower era. That is, there is every reason why defense spending soars these days. The vital point in this essay is that defense spending cut does not help civilian diplomacy and development aid. He also criticizes Zakaria that foreign aid is no exception under the pressure for expenditure cut. Finally Boot quotes Leon Panetta that a drastic defense spending would be “extraordinarily difficult and very high risk.” Again, I strongly recommend this article to make the case against pacifist liberals like Fareed Zakaria.

Another analysis that needs to be attention is a budget chart created by the Heritage Foundation. As opposed to widely believed notions, it shows that the total budget is likely to increase sharply even excluding defense spending. That is, it is utterly wrong to blame defense expenditure for growing budget deficit (“The Military Isn't the Problem”; Weekly Standard Blog; August 3, 2011). See the chart below.





As Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said in the press briefing, there are two vital points to discuss US defense under present fiscal austerity. One is to have the capability to meet security challenges around the world, such as terrorism, rogue states, and rising powers. The other is to maintain the position of the best armed forces in the world. Secretary Panetta has outlined continuity of US defense from his predecessor Robert Gates. Further talk on defense budget will be done at the super committee at the congress. Watch the process there closer!