Friday, August 15, 2014

How Will America Rebuild Defense from Sequestration?

The 2013 sequestration is inflicting critical damage on US defense for a long term. The Obama administration failed to reach a budget agreement with Congress, but it is an imperative to revert the negative trend. In view of increasingly destabilized global security, the defense budget and burden sharing is one of the key issues in NATO summit in Wales from September 4 to 5. Currently, most of the European allies spend just around 1% of GDP on defense, with some exception like Britain and France. Such low allocation to defense is the level of old and passive pacifist Japan. In order to revert widespread defense cut syndrome in the Western alliance, the United States must rebuild defense from notorious sequestration. Some conservative opinion leader like Charles Krauthammer argues that America’s Declineis a Choice” (Weekly Standard; October 19, 2009), and the defense budget problem is a typical case of this. Therefore, we must watch closer whether the United States will override sequestration or not.

In view of increasingly assertive China, czarist Russia, virulent Islamic terrorism in Iraq and Syria, and other emerging threats like Iran and North Korea, the United States has to rebuild its national defense. The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) by General MartinDempsey, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells that the Department of Defense worries fatal impacts of sequestration, which would make US armed forces too small and outdated for missions around the globe. The QDR assesses challenges to US security, and indicates how to manage budget constraints by strategic rebalance and structural reform. Also, it mentioned that further sequestration would constrain US defense missions.

In response to the 2014 QDR, the National Defense Panel of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), chaired by Former Secretary of Defense William Perry and former Commander of US Central Command John Abizaid, released a new report, entitled “Ensuring a strong US Defense forthe Future” to revert negative effects of sequestration. This bipartisan report draws extensive attention and interest from defense policy makers. The panel argues that the QDR does not show long term measures to overcome the sequestration. Also, they recommend reconciliation between the Department of Defense and the Congress. In addition, this report insists on building large armed forces regardless of capability. Quite alarmingly, panel members are more concerned with the erosion of technological advantage than other defense planners.

While the 2010 QDR focused on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2014 QDR pays attention to 21st century defense priorities, that is, homeland protection, building global security, and overseas power projection. The USIP’s report agrees with the QDR basically, but it raises concerns with the current defense budget. The report warns that the risk of inability to carry out US military strategy will be higher, without managing sequestration.

But how should the United States save defense? At the Congress, Buck McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, insisted on introducing a National Defense Authorization Act to urge the Department of Defense to revise the QDR (“Defense Panel: Obama Administration DefenseStrategy ‘Dangerously’ Underfunded”; Washington Free Beacon; July 31, 2014). Though members of the National Defense Panel agree that current underfunding would hurt military capability and capacity, the prospects remain unclear (“Sequestration-liteis slowly undermining US forces”; in Focus Quarterly; July 14, 2014). However, Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says that the Congress showed a bipartisan initiative with the USIP report to turn back a horrible $1 trillion spending cut, before its recess in August. That is, to repeal the Budget Control Act in 2011, and to return to the baseline of Robert Gates in 2012 (“A Wake Up Call to Washington on Defense”; Real ClearDefense; August 1, 2014).

Former Republican Senator Jim Talent, who is also a member of the National Defense Panel to publish this report, comments that if President Barack Obama were to fulfill the constitutional obligation that the United States “shall protect each of them (the States) from invasion.” in Article IV, the latest QDR is still incomplete (“A Stunning Rebuke of OurCurrent Defense Policies”; National Review Online; August 1, 2014). Insufficient budget will pose critical constraints to execute defense strategy. If that happens, American allies need to redesign their strategies in response. Attention to congressional debates defense spending when the Hill reopens in September.