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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The U.S. Military Is In Decline. Cutting Defense Spending Would Be a Disaster

U.S. Miliary B-1 Bomber
A B-1B Lancer, tail number 86-0094, is moved across Douglas Blvd. to the Maintenance Repair and Overhaul Technology Center (MROTC) to receive an initial portion of Gate 1 of programmed depot maintenance April 21. 567th AMXS personnel will perform three days of maintenance which include single system checks on 40 individual actuators validating voltage outputs as well as interrogating each actuator for hydraulic leaks. After single systems are completed, the horizontal stabilizers will be removed from the aircraft. This is the first time that horizontal stabilizers have ever been removed at the MROTC. Once complete, the aircraft and horizontal stabilizers will be brought back across Douglas to the 569th AMXS strip facility for plastic media blasting. Once stripped, the horizontal stabilizers will be routed to the 76th Commodities Maintenance Group for overhaul and repairs. (U.S. Air Force photo/Kelly White)

As House Republicans continue to bandy about a major cut to the US military’s budget for next year, one voice of reason explained why that tired and non-strategic approach only serves to hurt the troops and harm our strategic position in the world relative to our problems.

Speaking at AEI this week, US Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said the United States tries to “repeatedly cash the ‘peace dividend’ when there is no peace.” 

Note the adverb used: repeatedly.

The 1990’s peace dividend provided cover for a very real procurement holiday from which the U.S. military has never fully recovered. That lapse in military modernization was followed by a hollow buildup for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which was then bookended by the Budget Control Act era and sequestration.

The result is a smaller, older, less ready—but more expensive—military. America is confronting its own diminishing combat power alongside shrinking conventional and nuclear deterrents. Not only is our military superiority in decline across the armed forces and domains of warfare, but we are outmatched by potential enemies in some specific operational challenges.

Compounding the problem is that our decline has been underway for some time.

Four years ago, the 2018 national defense strategy said America’s “competitive military advantage has been eroding.”

Just under a decade ago, the 2014 National Defense Strategy Commission found that “America’s military superiority—the hard-power backbone of its global influence and national security—has eroded to a dangerous degree.” The bipartisan commissioners said the convergence of negative trends has created a crisis of national security for the United States, quite possibly “an emergency.”

In 2010, the Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel said in no uncertain terms that similar issues raised in their report were “sufficiently serious” that all 20 commissioners believed an explicit warning was appropriate. They said “a train wreck is coming” given the “aging of the inventories and equipment used by the services, the decline in the size of the Navy, escalating personnel entitlements, overhead and procurement costs, and the growing stress on the force.”

The 2010 body concluded that the consequences for a “business as usual” attitude towards their findings were “not acceptable.”

Yet business-as-usual seems to be the approach de jure for military investments over three decades. These disturbing trend lines were obvious each time Washington has voted to cut defense spending without strategic forethought or rationale. And the House may be set to do it again, but this time in light of an unforgiving history and lack of margin within the force to do more with less without severe consequences.

As Sen. Cornyn said, the nation is clearly in the midst of great power competition and has not “risen to the challenge.” He said the situation requires “a sense of urgency” lacking in Washington. He noted that he sees nothing that gives him a great deal of comfort that the US is adequately prepared for a multi-front conflict. “I don’t see all hands on deck,” Cornyn continued, including regarding America’s defense and aerospace industrial base, should a crisis escalate in Asia.

That is an accurate, if understated, assessment of our current comfort level surrounding assumptions about when or how severely others may use force and challenge the status quo in varied regions of the world—and how much luxurious time the US would have to respond.

Given the worrying state of our defenses and industrial capacity, as well as the rising number and severity of challenges around the world, why would House Republicans arbitrarily pick a topline budget number that is not threat-informed?

Because any reasonable analysis would say—and has said for years now—that defense budgets above inflation are only the minimum needed to stem the tide and recover.

What took decades to create will similarly take decades to un-do with robust defense spending that is predictable, consistent, and on-time.

Nor is a $75 billion cut to the military’s budget even what’s really on the table. Speaker McCarthy seems to think that returning to budgets at 2022 levels is simply “what we were spending just two or three weeks ago.”

No, Mr. Speaker.

The 118th Congress is charged with funding the military for fiscal year 2024 and 2025. This year’s budget for 2023 is settled, overwhelmingly voted upon, and signed into law.

Returning to 2022 spending levels for 2024 is much more than a $75 billion cut for the US military. The House GOP is proposing a defense cut well north of $100 billion once more accurate inflation data is available.

The result of this short-sighted and unserious proposal would be near immediate and create a “force that is measurably smaller and less capable than the one we have today.”

As my colleagues have said, while “prospects for these cuts are not looking good, it is important to understand how dangerous even presenting them as a viable option is to our nation’s national security.”

As former Secretary of Defense Mattis was fond of saying: “Let’s take our own side in this fight.”

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Expertise and Experience: Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a resident fellow in the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. You can follow her on Twitter: @MEaglen. While working at AEI, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member on the National Defense Strategy Commission, a congressionally mandated bipartisan review group whose final report in November 2018, “Providing for the Common Defense,” included assessments and recommendations for the administration. Earlier, Ms. Eaglen served as a staff member on the 2014 congressionally mandated National Defense Panel, established to assess US defense interests and strategic objectives, and in 2010 on the congressionally mandated bipartisan Quadrennial Defense Review Independent Panel, which evaluated the Pentagon’s defense strategy. She is also one of the 12-member US Army War College Board of Visitors, which offers advice about program objectives and effectiveness.

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.



  1. 404NotFound

    January 25, 2023 at 4:22 pm

    The US military is the most powerful armed force in the Solar System, hell, actually the most powerful force in the milky way galaxy.

    Giving it more money is only like throwing or adding more H2O into the ocean.

    The US military today has many grey and black budget projects, in addition to all those black budget projects belonging to the CIA and NSA.

    That explains all the billion deficits in the annual federal bill of accounts.

    The DoD or the parent of the US military can never explain or even fathom the growing black hole in its financial accounting for years now, after end of nam era.

    Each year, the black hole is excused as a lumpbof undetermined adjustments. Or daylight robbery, wholesale fraud or plain thievery to the taxpayers.

    Thus the US military is never ever short of money. Congress which is its patron makes sure of it. It has so much that biden is allowed to hurl billions over to europe every other week or every other day.

  2. Jacksonian Libertarian

    January 25, 2023 at 6:04 pm

    “Generals are always preparing to fight the last war.”

    The natural evolution of weapons is in a transition period between Industrial Age dumb weapons, and Information Age smart weapons.

    Combat Power rule of thumb: 1 smart weapon = 500 dumb weapons

    The sunk cost fallacy is a psychological barrier that ties people to unsuccessful endeavors simply because they’ve committed resources to it.

    The US has trillions of dollars worth of obsolescent weapons/platforms (sunk costs) that it wastes most of its budget on.

  3. ATM

    January 25, 2023 at 7:31 pm

    If we are falling behind it is only because of corruption in the military, government and military industrial complex. It has nothing to do with funding.

  4. GhostTomahawk

    January 25, 2023 at 7:38 pm

    Let’s close down our overseas installations consolidate that equipment and make a smaller force with higher standards. Not a bloated one that is using less capable equipment. Proxy wars and the war on terror have been money pits for decades. Time to wise up and pass over this war if thinking.

  5. Jim

    January 25, 2023 at 8:15 pm

    Per the author: “The 1990’s peace dividend provided cover for a very real procurement holiday from which the U.S. military has never fully recovered.”

    Considering the trillions of Dollars spent on the U. S. military since the early 1990’s and to say the U. S. never really recovered…

    Is an indictment of the Military-Industrial-Complex… and the Senators & Congressmen, the Legislative Complex… as President Eisenhower wanted to state in that famous farewell address… but was dissuaded from doing so.

    Going back to the “Peace Dividend” of the 1990’s… the sovereign, the American People, wanted that “Peace Dividend,” but the foreign policy blob didn’t want peace… no, they wanted to dominate the world.

    There is a distinction between dominating the world versus ruling the world… but functionally there is little to distinguish between the two.

    And, frankly, while the foreign policy blob in their policy papers clearly state the need to dominate the world… as in “full spectrum dominance”… they didn’t state they wanted to rule the world… too Hitlerian… even for the Neocons.

    However, many people privately believed and some publicly, that “rule the world” is exactly what the Neoconservatives wanted to do… and still do to this day… and, sadly many flavors of warhawks, too.

    The United States government (which is not the sovereign, the American People are the sovereign) made a fateful choice to “dominate the world” without telling the American People.

    If instead of the people being sovereign, there was a king, who is sovereign, it would be treason to engage in a military policy by his ministers without telling the king about it until the war had already started.

    The king’s ministers would suffer the consequences for treason against the king… and we know what the penalty is.

    If America minds it’s own vital national security interests (which doesn’t mean or require “ruling the world” our defense budget could be smaller and waste a lot less money.

    Simple, the American People have to identify the people in government who want to “rule the world” and kick them out of government… they have no right to rule… and they must be held account for their actions.

    Less money is the only signal the Military-Industrial-Industrial-Complex understands… so they know there isn’t a blank check… and we don’t need a military capable to rule the world because the sovereign, the American People, don’t want to rule the world.

    And lobbyists for the Military-Industrial-Complex can go on a diet… or if they can’t make enough money, they can go into another business.

  6. Ezra Teter

    January 25, 2023 at 8:53 pm

    Not cutting it has already been a disaster. Our $31 trillion debt has already been destroying the government and the useless military that can’t even beat a poor country with no navy or air force is a large part of that debt. China built thousands of mile of bullet trains while we were pissing our money away in the War on Terror.” Our debt was only $5.6 trillion before G.W. showed up.

  7. Lindsey

    January 25, 2023 at 9:43 pm

    The “peace dividend” was never given back to the very people who paid for the “Peace” in the first place – The American People.

    All the usual Criminals ( Politicians/Generals/Admirals/Arms Contractors ) received the hard earned Trillions of taxpayer Dollars that American Tax Payers struggled to pay for our Country.

    As usual, the Criminals in power in the U.S. Government stole and is stealing Taxpayer money to enrich themselves and in the process are murdering Millions of others.
    A special place in Hell is waiting.

  8. CRS, DrPH

    January 25, 2023 at 9:45 pm

    I’m in favor of closing all US military bases in states that voted for Donald Trump. That will save vast amounts of money.

  9. Arash

    January 26, 2023 at 1:24 am

    US has only two passive neighbors and two mighty oceans on its sides to protect it and yet likes of This guy keep telling us that the largest military budget in the world is not enough for it!

  10. pagar

    January 26, 2023 at 1:28 am

    Peace flies out of the window when the US military is in the driver’s seat of US foreign policy.

    US foreign military is heavily militarized today, due to the massive shock of big pearl incident and the subsequent delirious heady heady victory obtained by nuking japan twice.

    As a consequence, peace continues to flee from the grasp of US, despite setting up the UN, UNSC, NATO, world trade organization, atoms-for-peace program and other smoke & mirrors initiatives.

    Due to its glaringly hot militarized foreign policy, washington finds itself fighting endless wars instead of reaping peace dividends.

    For example, US under biden is brazenly attempting to overthrow putin and pursue stupid regime change in russia using force via proxy war, while refusing to use the US supreme court against china’s xi jinping who’s played a major role in the global covid affair that has so far killed 6.7 million people (including 1.1 million US citizens).

    Thus there’s zero peace dividend to reap as long as US prefers to use military force instead of legal force.

    Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

  11. John

    January 26, 2023 at 9:03 am

    The GOP will loose millions pro-Defense voters if the defense budget is cut.
    There could be a core mission approach to the entire federal budget which likely will reduce spending by 10% and could enhance overall effectiveness of funding. But it would require an industrious congress looking at each spending item in the budget.
    You do not need to have breast cancer research in the defense budget.
    Infrastructure spending could focus on our most delapidated urban and rural areas.
    The roads in my suburban neighborhood are not great, but do not need federal funding.
    Price controls on all pharmaceuticals would save 300 bill a year.
    If we need more subs which are survivable, why build 17 bill nonsurvivable aircraft carriers? Gerald Ford still not working right.
    If critical race theory is unconstitutional through violation of the equal protection clause why hiring people to teach it at West Point?

  12. Jim

    January 26, 2023 at 10:47 am

    The truth…

    The defense industry has been drinking straight from the punch bowel since 9-11.

    But this professional advocate for defense spending is crying & whimpering that her sacred cow can’t be touched.

    This is classic.

    Defense spending along with the rest of the federal budget needs to be reduced.

    Our military obligations are almost all OVER seas… those obligations need to be reduced.

  13. Ion

    January 26, 2023 at 4:05 pm

    It’s less the money than what they are spending it on. All the woketard crap has to go. Not one cent for it. Spend it on what is needed, where it’s needed. But with the idiots running the country and DOD right now, I doubt that will happen.

  14. Deserttrek

    January 26, 2023 at 7:06 pm

    When I see the military garrisoning and protecting our borders from illegals and infiltration by international organizations I will look into maintaining budgets. They can’t even pass an audit.

    Also how about publicizing the Fat Leonard scandal and looking into all service contracts.

  15. BKSLA

    January 27, 2023 at 12:24 am

    The malfeasance/irresponsibility/carelessness of the U.S.A. (economic and militarily) has come to roost: The fraudulent invasion of Iraq, the incompetence in Afghanistan, the grift of the Great Recession, the panic, fear, lying and waste of the Scamdemic (saw this term earlier today – might be the most appropriate ever). Even though many are oblivious or even worse – delusional, this ponzi scheme cannot go on forever. The U.S.A. is at best, $31 TRILLION in debt, the neo-cons will throw as many $$$ at Ukraine as possible and want to start shipping even more expensive arms to Taiwan. While their arguments MIGHT be legit, they are still living in the mid-late 80s when we had fairly competent leaders and a somewhat manageable debt (a.k.a. FANTASYLAND). The U.S.A. has some HARD choices to make and not a single person in DC even close to capable of making these decisions.

    My personal opinion is that we need to fix things at home (two-tier justice system, STOP government spending, STOP illegal border crossings) otherwise, anything we accomplish on the rest of the globe won’t really make a difference. We no longer have the means to fix both internal and external problems.

  16. dave

    January 27, 2023 at 2:44 am

    Close 90% of the bases outside the USA time to stop being police of the world. We have around 900 bases worldwide, and are constantly involved where we do NOT belong.Recruiting is in the toilet, and it won`t get any better. Vax mandate seriously injured a LOT of our personnel.

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