Playing defense on the sequestration battle

As January 1 draws near, expect doomsday predictions about big national-security cuts to ramp up

Topics: The American Prospect, National security, Sequestration,

Playing defense on the sequestration battle
This article originally appeared on The American Prospect.

If you’ve been following the news, chances are you have heard of “sequestration” by now. Everyone in national security — from the Pentagon to Congress to industry to the think tanks — seems to agree that the spending cuts would be a menace that deserves to be squelched. But is it?

Sequestration is an automatic spending cut inserted into the Budget Control Act of 2011. The cuts were designed to light a fire under the Supercommittee to agree on specific cuts, because failure would mean a blanket slashing of many areas of the federal budget, gutting both parties’ spending priorities. The Supercommittee didn’t accomplish its given task and the cuts remain, so we might theoretically see the first chunks of the $1.2 trillion in cuts (over ten years) — including $55 billion per year in reduced defense spending — take effect in January. Unless the national security establishment stops it first, that is.

At about $676 billion (in FY2012), U.S. defense spending accounts for approximately half of all worldwide defense spending. If you were to include our allies, together we account for 72 percent of global military spending. (This figure only includes the military’s FY2013 requested “base” budget, war budget, and nuclear weapons budget. It doesn’t include the rest of security spending, which takes the figure up to nearly $1 trillion.) According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the United States spends five times more than China (5.5 percent of global spending) and Russia (3.3 percent), our biggest “adversaries,” combined. (Iran’s military budget is about $9.2 billion.)

This figure reflects a massive increase in military spending in the past decade: Top-line defense spending rose from $412 billion to $700 billion under George W. Bush. Even Ronald Reagan only raised spending by from $444 to $580 billion at his peak, coming down to $524 billion, and Bush 41 dropped that to $435 billion (in 2012 dollars).



To fight the sequester, all the key figures in the fight — as well as the pundits and industry lobbyists and public relations firms — have flooded the media with dire predictions. The hyperbole is impressive, even by Beltway standards.

The big guns at the Pentagon call sequestration “devastating.” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta calls it a “doomsday mechanism,” like “shooting ourselves in the head.” Deputy Secretary Ashton Carter called it “assisted suicide.” Deputy Assistant Secretary Brett Lambert called it “fiscal castration.” Industry CEOs invaded Washington, and even Dick Cheney visited Congress to urge the House to pass the defense appropriation bill (which provided over $3 billion more than the Pentagon asked for) and the Sequestration Transparency Act. (The latter act, signed by President Obama on August 7, gives the White House 30 days to explain exactly how it plans to implement the cuts, which will provide ammunition for the fight against sequestration by showing where the pain would be felt.)

It’s not just Republicans either: The committee’s top Democrat, Adam Smith, calls it a “pervasive threat to our future.”

President Obama himself reportedly called up the CEO of Lockheed Martin, the nation’s top government contractor (not just in defense), and told him the sequester is not going to happen. When it comes to defense spending, that’s too bad.

A cursory glance at the attacks on sequestration quickly reveals them to be little more than hogwash. Here are some of sequestration’s “unacceptable risk[s]” according to chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Representative Buck McKeon:

Termination of the Joint Strike Fighter, minimal upgrades to existing forces, and a wider “fighter gap”

Evoking Cold War tropes like the “missile gap” — which disingenuously claimed that the Soviets had more, far more, missiles than the United States — seems to be a rhetorical technique favored by hawks to scare us into buying stuff, in this case more fighter planes. Even former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recognized that the so-called fighter gap is “nonsense.”

McKeon’s memo says sequestration would leave the United States with the “smallest tactical fighter force in the history of the Air Force,” but his fear leaves out an essential bit of context — our small tactical fighter force is far larger than any other nation’s in the world.

The United States has more than 3,200 tactical combat aircraft — about 1,000 more than China. Iran is estimated to have 336 combat-capable aircraft. But to the Navy, there is a gap because it doesn’t have as many jets as it wants, and it labels what it wants as a “validated requirement.”

Terminating the Joint Fighter Program — the F-35 Lightning II — would indeed have dire consequences … for Lockheed Martin and a host of other American and foreign contractors (such as General Electric, which has received billions of dollars to build an unnecessary alternate engine that the Pentagon didn’t want). The F-35 is the most expensive weapon system procurement program in American history. Estimates are in the range of $400 billion — and that doesn’t include full lifespan costs, which are estimated to reach up to $1.5 trillion dollars. “Fifth Generation” sounds cool, but we already have the tools to perform the F-35’s mission, and terminating the program would go far toward satisfying the sequester.

Termination of the new strategic bomber critical to America’s future posture in the Asia-Pacific

The term strategic bombing means bombing a country’s economy and popular will (translation: people) into rubble. Strategic bombers carry big payloads of nuclear or heavy conventional bombs. Why do we need a NextGen bomber when we already have the B-1, the B-2, and the B-52 (yes, it’s old), not to mention ballistic missile submarines, cruise-missile ships, and land-based nuclear missiles? Even senior Air Force thinkers say that we have way more nuclear weapons than needed for effective deterrence (311 would be enough), and deterrence is the goal after all. The logic for a new aircraft that the Pentagon is trying to haggle down to $550 million each sounds specious. Former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps General James Cartwright, thinks that all we need are some inexpensive bomb “trucks” that would cost all of $20 thousand apiece.

Delaying new submarines and cutting the existing fleet as nations like China expand anti-sub capabilities

This is another common trope of defense spending paranoia: Other countries may invest in weapons, and therefore we must spend more. Of course, they may be spending to defend themselves against our new systems. It is therefore no shock that China is investing in antisubmarine warfare, considering that observers are surprised by how behind on the times China is.

As to new submarines, we are building new Virginia-class attack submarines at an approximate price of $2.3 billion each, with a total production cost estimated at $83.7 billion, making it one of the world’s ten most expensive weapons programs (all ten are American, as you would expect). The Navy has 72 nuclear submarines. China has 60, and most of them are old and loud diesel-electric subs. Russia has the same total, but its are somewhat more [advanced] nuclear-powered boats. The current bête-noire, Iran, has a grand total of three small, gas-electric, Kilo-class Russian submarines. Clearly we need more.

Shrinking America’s aircraft carrier fleet, reducing power projection capability

The U.S. Navy has 11 carrier battle groups, ten of which are centered upon Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, the largest naval ships in the world. Russia has one carrier in service and has stopped building any more. China has only just entered the aircraft carrier game with a refurbished Soviet ship and a nascent and limited building program that will take years to sail. Even so, a new U.S. carrier is in the works. Its sticker price was $5.16 billion, but that has gone up by $811 million in cost overruns. If sequestration requires $55 billion in annual cuts, this would be an obvious program to cross out.

Termination of the littoral combat ship essential to defeating anti-access threats from nations like Iran

This is a $35 billion-plus program for extremely cool looking new ships that can operate in shallow water that is an excuse for replacing older frigates and anti-mine vessels. It is not possible to overstate just how much more powerful our Navy is than Iran’s. The same goes for the rest of our military. Two aircraft carriers and another one on the way are doing just fine at keeping Iran’s threats to close off the Persian Gulf mere words.

***

These are the scary sorts of cuts that Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said “would risk hollowing out our force.” Should we be frightened that sequestration would risk reducing us to “presenting less of an overmatch to our adversaries?” It is clear that the United States faces little danger in being outmatched by any potential adversaries. One of McKeon’s memos says the cuts would “Transform a Superpower into a Regional Power.” Sure it would, if by “region” he means “earth.”

Jeremiah Goulka writes about American politics and culture. His most recent work has been published in the American Prospect and Salon.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 22
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Talking Heads, 1977
    This was their first weekend as a foursome at CBGB’s, after adding Jerry Harrison, before they started recording the LP “Talking Heads: 77.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith, Bowery 1976
    Patti lit up by the Bowery streetlights. I tapped her on the shoulder, asked if I could do a picture, took two shots and everyone went back to what they were doing. 1/4 second at f/5.6 no tripod.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Blondie, 1977
    This was taken at the Punk Magazine Benefit show. According to Chris Stein (seated, on slide guitar), they were playing “Little Red Rooster.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    No Wave Punks, Bowery Summer 1978
    They were sitting just like this when I walked out of CBGB's. Me: “Don’t move” They didn’t. L to R: Harold Paris, Kristian Hoffman, Diego Cortez, Anya Phillips, Lydia Lunch, James Chance, Jim Sclavunos, Bradley Field, Liz Seidman.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell + Bob Quine, 1978
    Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing CBGB's in 1978, with Richard’s peerless guitar player Robert Quine. Sorely missed, Quine died in 2004.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bathroom, 1977
    This photograph of mine was used to create the “replica” CBGB's bathroom in the Punk Couture show last summer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So I got into the Met with a bathroom photo.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Stiv Bators + Divine, 1978
    Stiv Bators, Divine and the Dead Boys at the Blitz Benefit show for injured Dead Boys drummer Johnny Blitz.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977
    “The kids are all hopped up and ready to go…” View from the unique "side stage" at CBGB's that you had to walk past to get to the basement bathrooms.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Klaus Nomi, Christopher Parker, Jim Jarmusch – Bowery 1978
    Jarmusch was still in film school, Parker was starring in Jim’s first film "Permanent Vacation" and Klaus just appeared out of nowhere.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Hilly Kristal, Bowery 1977
    When I used to show people this picture of owner Hilly Kristal, they would ask me “Why did you photograph that guy? He’s not a punk!” Now they know why. None of these pictures would have existed without Hilly Kristal.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Dictators, Bowery 1976
    Handsome Dick Manitoba of the Dictators with his girlfriend Jody. I took this shot as a thank you for him returning the wallet I’d lost the night before at CBGB's. He doesn’t like that I tell people he returned it with everything in it.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Alex Chilton, Bowery 1977
    We were on the median strip on the Bowery shooting what became a 45 single sleeve for Alex’s “Bangkok.” A drop of rain landed on the camera lens by accident. Definitely a lucky night!

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery view, 1977
    The view from across the Bowery in the summer of 1977.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ramones, 1977 – never before printed
    I loved shooting The Ramones. They would play two sets a night, four nights a week at CBGB's, and I’d be there for all of them. This shot is notable for Johnny playing a Strat, rather than his usual Mosrite. Maybe he’d just broken a string. Love that hair.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Richard Hell, Bowery 1977 – never before printed
    Richard exiting CBGB's with his guitar at 4am, about to step into a Bowery rainstorm. I’ve always printed the shots of him in the rain, but this one is a real standout to me now.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Patti Smith + Ronnie Spector, 1979
    May 24th – Bob Dylan Birthday show – Patti “invited” everyone at that night’s Palladium show on 14th Street down to CBGB's to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday. Here, Patti and Ronnie are doing “Be My Baby.”

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Legs McNeil, 1977
    Legs, ready for his close-up, near the front door of CBGB's.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Suicide, 1977
    Rev and Alan Vega – I thought Alan was going to hit me with that chain. This was the Punk Magazine Benefit show.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Ian Hunter and Fans, outside bathroom
    I always think of “All the Young Dudes” when I look at this shot. These fans had caught Ian Hunter in the CBGB's basement outside the bathrooms, and I just stepped in to record the moment.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Tommy Ramone, 1977
    Only at CBGB's could I have gotten this shot of Tommy Ramone seen through Johnny Ramones legs.

    Once upon a time on the Bowery

    Bowery 4am, 1977
    End of the night garbage run. Time to go home.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>