Restoring America’s economic health will require seriously dealing with our massive federal budget deficit over the long term. Among other things, reducing that deficit will require substantially reducing the projected level of defense spending over the next five years and using the majority of those savings to bring down the deficit while transferring some to the other instruments of national power. Ironically, taking these steps in a smart way will actually enhance our national security.
Our suggestions for reducing the defense budget below projected levels are rooted in the efficiencies that can be achieved due to the changing strategic environment and improved U.S. capabilities. Moreover, they are based on ideas that the president, his secretary of defense, and other members of the defense establishment have already laid out. They will still leave the defense budget higher in real terms than at any time in the 1970s and 1990s, and, importantly, they will not undermine critical national security objectives and competencies.
One suggestion comes from the Sustainable Defense Task Force established earlier this year by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA). The Task Force suggested that we could save $80 billion over 10 years by limiting U.S. military positions in Europe and Asia to 100,000. This option entails permanently eliminating 50,000 current military positions: 33,000 from Europe and 17,000 from Asia. As the troops are withdrawn, the overall force structure can be reduced accordingly.
The Task Force calculated that gradually reducing these forces could initially save about $6.5 billion per year, including reductions in associated expenses such as military housing, acquisition, and operations and maintenance costs associated with current troop levels. That number would grow to $12 billion per year once the number of U.S. active-duty troops in Iraq and Afghanistan drops below 100,000. This can efficiently be accomplished by FY 2015 with the impending withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the projected drawdown in Afghanistan.
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