Michael O'Hanlon asks the question how deep should we cut defense spending?
William Kristol, Editor, The Weekly Standard
Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
William Kristol is editor of the influential Washington-based political magazine, The Weekly Standard. Widely recognized as one of the nation's leading political analysts and commentators, Mr. Kristol regularly appears on Fox News Sunday and on the Fox News Channel. Before starting The Weekly Standard in 1995, Mr. Kristol led the Project for the Republican Future, where he helped shape the strategy that produced the 1994 Republican congressional victory.
Prior to that, Mr. Kristol served as chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle during the Bush administration and to Secretary of Education William Bennett under President Reagan. Before coming to Washington in 1985, Mr. Kristol taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Kristol recently co-authored The New York Times bestseller The War Over Iraq: America's Mission and Saddam's Tyranny.
Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy. He is also the director of the Brookings-ABC Opportunity 08 project.
He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University, and a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Council on Foreign Relations. O’Hanlon’s latest books are A War Like No Other: The Truth about China's Challenge to America (Wiley, 2007), coauthored with Richard C. Bush, and the edited volume Opportunity 08 (Brookings, 2007). He also recently completed Hard Power (Basic Books, 2006), co-authored with Kurt M. Campbell. He has written Defense Strategy for the Post-Saddam Era (Brookings, 2005) and The Future of Arms Control (Brookings, 2005), co-authored with Michael Levi, as well as a related book, Neither Star Wars nor Sanctuary: Constraining the Military Uses of Space (Brookings, 2004). Together with Mike Mochizuki, he wrote Crisis on the Korean Peninsula (McGraw-Hill) in 2003, as well as Expanding Global Military Capacity for Humanitarian Intervention (Brookings) that same year.
In 2002, O'Hanlon and seven colleagues wrote Protecting the American Homeland, a book updated in 2003. A subsequent coauthored book, Protecting the Homeland 2006/2007, was released in early 2006.
He is also the senior scholar responsible for Brookings’ Iraq Index, which he has created and compiled with Nina Kamp. O'Hanlon was an analyst at the Congressional Budget Office from 1989-1994.
Michael O'Hanlon, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, discusses Congress' quandary of finding $60 billion in spending cuts. O'Hanlon argues that balancing the appropriate degree of cuts will be a challenge, but he acknowledges that there is some waste to be trimmed for the long term strategic security of America.
Pete Hegseth: Good afternoon. My name is Pete Hegseth and I want to welcome you tothe Defend & Reform Policy Luncheon hosted by Concerned Veterans for America. Im theCEO of Concerned Veterans for America and were very fortunate to have an impressivelineup here today to discuss the future of Americas defense spending. I want tofirst thank the Weekly Standard, who has graciously agreed to co-host the event withus. Terry Eastland, Nick Swezey, as well as Bill Kristol, who will be moderating,had been fantastic in helping bring about this event to further the conversationabout the future of defense spending. So if you would drum in a round of applausefor Weekly Standard. Were also fortunate to have Michael OHanlon here to give ourkeynote address. I first met Michael when I readI didnt meet him. I met him throughthe pages of the New York Times when he wrote an op-ed called A War We Just MightWin, which you probably remember in July of 2007. Which was the first, sort of,glimmer of hope in those pages about a surge strategy and a new strategy in Iraq andsince then has continued to do great work about our defense and defense spending.Weve got Senator Lindsey Graham coming as well. Tim Griffin, congressman fromArkansas, was going to join us. However, he has bronchitis and cant make it. Soinstead weve got Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado, whos also from House ArmedServices, will be here filling in on the panel. We also have the good fortune ofRussell Rumbaugh and Steven Bucci from Stimson Center and Heritage Foundation andour event will close out with a look ahead from Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republicanfrom New Hampshire. So weve got a great lineup. I also want to thank the WillardHotel for hosting us today. Shelley Himes, Shelley raise your hand, for putting theevent on for us today and also the whole Concerned Veterans for America team. JoeGecan is around here somewhere, hes our director of operations. Kate Pomeroy is ourcommunications director. Justin and Kevin for putting it together and then TalColey, who if you open up the booklet that was on your chair, was the co-author withme in putting together some of the case studies and thinking weve been doing aboutdefense spending. Let me tell you a little bit about Concerned Veterans for America.Were a 501C4, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. A military veterans and militaryfamilies advocacy organization. It was founded earlier this year and our mission isvery simple, to fight for the freedoms, prosperity and liberty here at home that wefought for overseas. We fundamentally believe that when you raise your right handand swear an oath to defend the constitution, that service and obligation does notstop. And Concerned Veterans for America wants to be the place here, not just in DCbut across the country, where young veterans, old veterans and everyone in betweencome together to advocate for responsible policies. We want to find, educate andactivate veterans, supporting policy and policy makers that advanced liberty, thatadvance free enterprise and advance government reform and fight for a strong Americaand a strong military. So we encourage you to go to concernedveteransforamerica.orgto check out more about us. Like I said, were in the field, weve got field directorsacross the country, weve got a robust media effort trying to spread the message, notjust amongst veterans but from veterans to population at large and then also here inWashington, DC. In our constituency, we dont have a bunch of lobbyists, were not init for a particular industry. Our constituency is that E4 and that O3, that juniorNCO, junior officer, enlisted men who doesnt necessary have a voice and is comingback looking for answers, looking for opportunities, looking to fight for the futureof their country. We want to be the home for them. So this is a great event at theWillard Hotel but thats who we remember, thats why were doing what we do. Were alsohoping to be a little bit of a different type of veteran service organization. Weregoing to talk about traditional veterans issues but also advocate on a broader arrayof issues like our debt as a national security threat, like out of control spendingand what the implications are of that. Hence, the Defend & Reform event weve gottoday. I do want to point you to the report on your chair, its a culmination of thecase study series weve been doing for the last five months where Tal Coley and I andothers took a couple of examples of things that work well, things that didnt workwell and try to draw lessons out about the future of American defense spending. Welooked at the closure of JFCOM, Joint Forces Command. We looked at the fielding ofthe MRAP and whether there was lessons for procurement on that. We looked at thevalue of auditing the Pentagon and understanding where our spending is going. GreenFleet and Grocery Stores is the name of another one. What is the future of theseinitiatives in light of our fiscal realities? And then also the defense system MEADSand comparing it to alternatives in our, sort of, in an age of austerity to quotethe name of Michael OHanlons book. So that report is not meant to be comprehensive.We certainly dont have every answer in there. We know healthcare cost, personnelcost, strategy are all included in the future but Concerned Veterans for America istrying to start a conversation from veterans pragmatically to talk about how we getwhere we need to be, $16 Trillion in debt, trillion dollar annual deficits and afiscal cliff pending. We want to step back and proactively say, Veterans need to bea part of the discussion and a part of the solution. Anyone whos served knows thattheres fat to be cut in the military. Lets talk about it. Lets proactively talkabout and clean out our own house, the spending we know and know well. BecauseWashington is full of people, good, bad, and otherwise, pointing to the other guyand saying, If the other guy just did that, this would all be fixed, If the otherguy just raised taxes, If the other guys just cut spending. We want to say, weregoing to look inward first as responsible citizens, as those who have served andsay, how can we look at what we know well, defense and look at reforming it to makeit solvent to contribute to solving the budget woes our country faces, which areultimately a national security crisis. And I think youll hear a lot from ourspeakers about that. Admiral Mullen first addressed that when he talked about ourdebt as the single largest threat that we face and as it reached pass 16 trillionand almost hits 17 trillion, that could not be more stark, hence, the reason for theevent today. Obviously sequestration is looming. The fiscal cliff is looming. Theseare all pertinent issues. This is a very timely event. Were happy it worked out thatway. But its not just about this and theres no set of backroom deals now that willsolve the larger fiscal avalanche you might say, coming down the line. If were notable to both reform the way we spend money, not just in the defense department, somuch of this for us is about creating incentives for real deeper reforms in thelargest drivers of our debt and deficit, which are entitlement programs that are notsolvent and wont be into the future and are driving most of the debt woes that weface. So we want to raise serious questions. We dont want to just have it be anacademic discussion. We want to include a Boots On The Ground political perspective.What can be done? How can it be done? What is the future of defense spending? How dowe reform defense spending and entitlement spending? What are the politicalinhibitors to defense reform, to overall spending reform? And what are theconsequences of inaction? And I think weve got a great list of speakers today, manyof which have served. Senator Graham was a colonel in the air force. In fact, I hadthe opportunity of seeing him in Afghanistan just last year when he came throughwith the counter insurgency training center. Senator Ayottes husband served a careerin the military as well. So weve got speakers here who are not just electedpolitical leaders but also have experience in the defense field. So I will sit downnow so you can hear from the folks you actually came to hear from. But on behalf ofConcerned Veterans for America, were happy youre here. We appreciate you being here.We hope you will reach out to us, consider us a resource on defense related issuesas advocates and as educators, not just amongst veterans but also to the populationat large. Because veterans and those who served have a credibility that has beenearned, that can also be leveraged responsibly, to responsibly move the discussionforward and solve some of the big problems facing our nation. So without furtherado, I want to introduce the moderator for todays program, who has graciously agreedto co-host. Bill is the editor of the Weekly Standard, frequent commentator on FoxNews and most wouldnt know but his son, recently returned from a deployment inAfghanistan, is actually on AMU with the marines right now. So hes got some skin inthe game and has for quite some time. Were honored to have him here today, BillKristol.William Kristol: Thanks Pete and thank you all for coming and on behalf of theWeekly Standard, were happy to co-host this event with Concerned Veterans forAmerica. I will get right to the substance since this is, actually we have anopportunity to hear from people. I wont bother with their bios, its in the littlebook that you have. I think almost everyone actually whos speaking today and on thepanel today is a serious analyst of foreign policy and defense policy. Theyve allshown the ability to go beyond the obvious partisan shots that we all sometimes takein Washington and cross their own parties or their own constituencies at times andtry to tell the truth about whats necessary for our national security. We all wouldagree, Im sure, of what that is. But I think the best thing about this event from mypoint of view is we can have an hour and a half discussion honestly about thedefense budget, defense reform, what we need for our national security, what we canachieve for our national security, the risk we will pay if we go down certain paths.And so I think this will be, I look forward to learning a lot from this event and sowithout further ado, well beginso the way it will work is Michael OHanlon will speakfor about 12 minutes. And lets just say he can read his intro, one of the defenseexperts I respect the most. Lindsey Graham, one of the senators I respect the most,who has a deep knowledge of these issues will then speak, and then well go to apanel discussion with several figures who also, I think, have a lot to contribute.So I think well have a very goodand then Kelly Ayotte after that. So its astar-studded cast and I will get out of the way and ask you to welcome Mike OHanlonfrom The Brookings Institute.Michael OHanlon: Good afternoon everyone. Thank you Bill and thank you Pete andthank you for the opportunity. I know we all will have the opportunity and theprivilege of speaking here. Were all thrilled to be part of this and look forward tothe conversation. Let me kick things off. We have a lot of issues were covering. Imgoing to make one particular set of observations about the defense budget and Imsure others will and maybe take different approaches in the next hour and a half.The basic idea that I want to address in my just very brief remarks, is to ask, howmuch deeper can defense cuts responsibly be? And thats a question were all thinkingabout and were all going to come to different answers because its inherently ajudgment call. Its inherently an issue of not only how one sees the world, how onesown crystal ball seems to portend possible future conflicts or current conflictsgetting worse, but also ones view of the role of current American defense policy inour long term security because we obviously have a bit of a trade off here. Thequestion is, can we afford right now to reduce our military capabilities a littlebit in the interest of improving our economy for our longer term economic andtherefore, military strength? So I view the problem from a national security pointof view largely in this calculus of what short term additional risk can we accept ifnecessary in order to shore up our long term economic foundations? Thats the way Ilook at the problem. Not everyones going to put it the exact same way. This leads meto a couple of quick points that frame my overall approach and then I want to putthree or four ideas on the table very briefly for where I think we still might beable to cut a little more if necessary. Point one however is, and its worth sayingright up front, none of these cuts are desirable in and of themselves. I think Peteis right, theres still waste in the department of defense but its going to be hardto find and identify that waste even up to the point where the Pentagon is alreadycounting on it. For those of you who follow this stuff in detail and I know thatsmany of you in this room, the Pentagon is already assuming that well find $60billion in 10-year savings from reforms and efficiencies that it cannot yet specify.My good friend and former boss Bob Hale, the comptroller of the Pentagon, when hewas between government service jobs about a decade ago, he wrote this paper forAndrew Krepinevichs think tank and it was one of the most sort of, I dont know,low-key but still revealing titles that I ever saw in defense analysis. It wasbasically Defense Reforms and Efficiencies: Be Realistic but Keep Trying. And thenif you read the report, you saw a lot of small ball ideas. How do you save 50million here and a 100 million there, you know? By outsourcing who cuts the lawns atmilitary bases and things like that. Finding $60 billion in savings is going to behard and were already counting on it with the first set of cuts from the budgetcontrol act of 2011 that is already the basis for future Pentagon planning. Werealready counting on those efficiencies and reforms and we havent even identifiedthem yet. So keep that in mind when we get optimistic about finding a lot more wastefrom which we can cut or save. Second point, the capabilities that I think we canstill consider scaling back a little bit, and these are just my judgments; othersare going to come to different judgments themselves. These capabilities would benice to have and they should not be cut because they are inherently unnecessary orundesirable. And some people will say, you know, it would be better that thePentagon be smaller, less capable because weve been too interventionist and tooactivist in the last decade or the last 20 or 30 or 40 years and therefore, its justas well that we reign ourselves in. Well I dont come from that point of view ingeneral but I especially dont find that argument convincing today because today wehave all sorts of reasons why were going to be looking for ways to do less anyhow.Were tired of war. Our military is deservedly fatigued by its roles in the Iraq andAfghanistan missions. We see Assyria conflict that Im sure many of you like myselfwould love to find a way to do more about but its difficult to conceptualize. I dontsee the American public or Congress or President wanting to intervene just for thesake of intervening. So this argument that somehow we need to restrain ourselves andcutting the defense budget a lot is a good way to do it. I dont think it holds watervery well. These cuts and capabilities are going to be painful and risky and I wouldnot do most of them. Maybe not even any of them but certainly not most of them,unless we had to. Next broad point is that this only makes sense in the context ofbroader national deficit reduction and fiscal reform. The defense cuts have alreadybeen substantial. Defense and then the domestic accounts in the discretionary budgetas you know have contributed virtually all the savings so far under the budgetcontrol act from the first round of cuts. The military has been cut by almost half abillion dollars over 10 years relative to its previous plan or if you do the CBOcongressional budget office methodology, its been cut by 350 billion relative to abaseline that would adjust for inflation. Either way, its been cut a lot. And mostof those cuts have been really kicking in in the last couple of years and they arenot even counting the war savings, the savings from scaling back the militaryoperations abroad. So these savings are above and beyond what were realizing fromscaling back military operations and theyre going to be hard. As I mentioned, wedont even know how to make them all yet. Okay so thats the broad framing of what Iwant to put forth. Now having said all of that, I dont see a case for deepadditional defense cuts. Strongly against sequestration, not only because of theabruptness and indiscriminate quality with which it would kick in in a few weeks butbecause of the magnitude of the cuts in defense that it would require. And for thatsame reason, for that second reason, Im against the Simpson-Bowles plan. And I knowthis is something youre not supposed to say in polite company in Washington thesedays because Simpson and Bowles did a lot of great work. As did Alice Rivlin, mycolleague at Brookings and in my opinion, the most accomplished Brookings scholar inthe history of the institution but she and Pete Domenici did another report. Butthese reports all called for deeper defense budget reductions that I think areprudent. And the reason I say that is I try to identify specific defense savingsthat I believe we can responsibly make. Yes, theyre a little risky. Yes, theyre alittle painful but I think they are additional cuts that we can make. But when I gothrough my list, I can find ways to save maybe another $100 billion over 10 years,maybe 150 billion in that general range. And so Im doing this in a cautious way. Alot of defense budget proponents, defense budget cutting proponents, theyll say,well our budget is still very high relative to historical norms or relative toChina, or relative to the next 15 countries combined. And Ill make these very broadhand sweeping arguments about how we still spend a lot on defense. In one sense theyare correct, we do spend a lot but of course our responsibilities are much greaterthan other countries. And making these arguments, comparing our spending today tothe spending under Ronald Reagan or the spending of China or what have you, itdoesnt really help you build a force, build a program and develop a detailed defensebudget. So here very quickly are the ways that I would. Im keeping you from SenatorGraham so I should be brief. Let me just say for the sake of argument and welldiscuss it more later, areas where again, I dont relish the idea of cuts but I wouldpersonally go along with these if part of comprehensive national deficit reduction.Point number one, I think the ground forces could be cut a little bit more. As youall probably know, the ground forces grew about 15% during the wars of the lastdecade. They are slated to come down but theyre only going to come down to levelsstill a little bit larger than their 1990s levels. Now some people, probably BillKristol, probably a few others of you, would say the 1990s levels were too low andso the idea of using that as a benchmark is debatable. I would agree, its debatable.Again, these cuts are not ones that I want to make but I think we could considerhaving our ground forces over the next few years go a little bit below 1990s levelson the grounds that our overall threat portfolio as a nation has shifted moretowards other kinds of likely conflict, maritime conflict, counter terrorism, cyberissues and the likelihood of large scale classic air ground conflicts is less. Itsnot zero. We still have Korea to worry about, we have other possible contingencies,but I would be comfortable taking the ground forces down to a little bit below their1990s levels. Point number two, my colleague Steve Pifer and I just did a bookrecently on US nuclear force reductions. I think there are more economical ways tomaintain a nuclear triad, not because we can unilaterally cut our forces below whereRussias are but I think there are ways to be a little bit more economical in how weload up some of our weapon systems. Maybe take the Trident submarine fleet from 14boats back down to 8 and load up the missiles the way they were originally intended,really just as a cost-saving measure. And I think, you know, you can do thisyou dontsave a lot of money, you save a billion, two, maybe three billion a year at most,but its worth looking at that. A third idea I would consider, the navy and governorRomney talked eloquently about this during the campaign. I know a lot of myrepublican friends are not going to agree with what Im about to say because GovernorRomney was, as a centerpiece of his defense plan, advocating a bigger navy. Iactually think we can get by with a slightly smaller navy through the concept of seaswap, which is trying to keep ships deployed at sea longer and rotate the crews byairplane so you keep sailors from having to do more than six months at a time atsea. You try to use the ship in a more efficient way. This is not a panacea, maybewell talk about it later. There are a lot of reasons why I wouldnt push this ideatoo far but I think you can probably keep the navy about where it is or even goslightly smaller if you use this concept more assertively, especially for the largesurface combatants. Not for the aircraft carriers. Its very complicated to do itwith them. Let me just mention one more and Ill be done. On the F35 joint strikefighter program, I think you know, its a program thats getting a lot of bad pressand it deserves some of it but its also likely to become an amazing airplane. Like alot of other systems that got bad press at certain stages in their development haveproved to be ultimately things that performed well and that we really needed. I justthink the F35 program is bigger than it needs to be because the most plausiblereasons to require it are for contingencies against near pier competitor, like aChina and maybe these of the Iran. But if I size the F35 program based oncontingencies against Iran or China, I wind up with a calculation that says we needmaybe half as many of them as the 2500 that were now planning to buy. If you workthrough the mathematics of how much this saves you per year and you got to maybe buysomething else like refurbished F-16s to keep your force structure going or maybeuse drones a little bit more than we are right now, you have to suspend a fairamount of money anyway even for these less expensive systems. They dont come free.And so you wind up saving a little bit less than people might think when theyconsider the F35 program to be this projected trillion dollar program over the longterm, but I do think we can scale back and save. When you add up these numbers, Iwind up thinking we can probably save another 100 to 150 billion over 10 years butits going to be hard, its going to be painful, its going to require accepting somerisk and it should only be considered therefore in the spirit of a broad nationalplan to reduce the deficit that also gets revenues, entitlements and other programsseriously into the conversation more than they have been so far. I think Ill stopthere thanks very much.