The Battle Over the Defense Budget Cuts: Will Reality or Lobbyists Win the Debate?

The Washington Post editorial on Monday, November 7th illustrates the extent to which the Defense industry lobbyists have won over the mainstream mass media in their effort to spare their lucrative high-tech projects and contracts from feared cuts. The Washington Post should be ashamed of its editorial “Defense on the Rocks: mandated spending cuts could decimate U.S. Military might.”  They got it wrong on judging the impact and seem to have become a front for the military industrial establishment. They quote a host of military leaders and DOD Secretary Leon Panetta decrying in hysteric terms the impact of just 10% cuts in a bloated $700 billion budget even as we wind down two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They also seem to want to create a new “Cold War” in Asia to justify keeping half of our entire discretionary budget for the military as we cut away at vital domestic programs at even greater levels if the GOP in Congress has its way.  While many think Congress will come up with a way before 2013 to save DOD these cuts, the impact of that action could mean 20% cuts to everything else including our diplomatic and international programs which respond to conflicts before or instead of putting boots on the ground.

It seems that DOD has largely bought the idea of unneeded weapons systems including funding for impractical and gratuitous nuclear weapons and delivery systems. The savings on excessive nuclear weapons modernization alone could amount to tens of billions.  The focus of our security strategy over the next decade needs to be on confronting pinpointed risks with highly trained and properly equipped troops and preventive diplomacy tools, rather than on the military’s desire for unnecessary and expensive weapons and technologies to fight the cold war that does not protect us from the security landscape that is today.

Panetta’s statements about the need to cut retirement pay, health benefits, base closings, medical programs, etc. seem to be aimed at cutting useful people rather than industrial contracts. While Secretary Panetta hinted at cuts to weapons systems like the expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, with the goal to build 2,400 planes and a pricetag of about $400 billion over two decades, it seems less likely that he will do so. What need do we have for such an expensive system when our key security challenges can’t be addressed by such a force?

According to Panetta, some of the biggest defense savings will come from “reduced levels of modernization in some areas.”  Let’s start with cutting back on nuclear weapons systems and “modernization” that also are of little use against terrorists. In fact, we are planned to have 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 700 launchers under the New START treaty.  Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) announced at a recent press conference that he and 64 other Democratic House members had signed a letter to the “super committee” asking for reductions of tens of billions of dollars to nuclear weapons programs.  They wrote that reducing “outdated and unnecessary nuclear weapons” would “allow us to continue funding the national defense programs that matter most.”

So who will win the battle of the budget cuts?  Cynics would say those who have the most money to influence the media, Congress and DOD. Already they have won one key newspaper and a powerful group in Congress in both parties that depends on defense contracts in their states.  One wonders however why the same GOP Congress members voted against infrastructure funding, clean energy projects and other vital domestic needs with even higher employment outcomes, rather than against bloated defense contracts for systems that will sit useless on bases and create no further economic growth or employment and just higher debt or force further cuts for our poor and middle class?  Which option will really contribute to our national security?

By Harry C. Blaney III.

Comments on “Undue Obstruction” Editorial in Nature: Republican Blackmail Harms Our National Security and Increases our Debt!

There have been many excellent editorials in the past months that favor the New START treaty in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and others.   Of note is a recently released editorial in the science magazine Nature that addresses the massive expenditure increase in the US weapons complex.

The editorial makes clear that the reliability of our existing nuclear warheads is a non-issue and does not need to be addressed.  The plutonium triggers, which Republicans claim are defective, are heartier than expected and will last for at least 85 years” an expert says.  The editorial cited a long list of data that reaffirms that our weapons will continue to work as expected. Yet the parochial interests of the weapons labs have prevailed as they continue to ask for more money. These weapons labs have found, in Senators Jon Kyle and Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), supporters for more much more public money for their toys. Nature makes clear that, in fact, the weapons complex “have a slew of modern tools to ensure their weapons work effectively.”  The author urges the readers to see the full editorial available at this site.

Thus the reality is that these Republican “fiscal conservative” Senators, who voted against the extension of unemployment benefits for the hard -working Americans, recently made unemployed,  are very happy to waste the taxpayers money on unneeded and wasteful weapons projects which perhaps leading to new underground testing “as well as development of new kinds of ‘reliable’ weapons. Again no need given our existing systems

Advancing a treaty that is clearly in our interest is being held up by blackmail to waste some $84-100 plus billions that could be put to solving more critical needs like getting our civilian productive capacity going, develop clean energy, and getting education system back to first-world standards.

This article references < http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v468/n7324/full/468600a.html>

Message from London: Americans (just not our leaders) Overwhelming Support New START

This weekend a CNN poll showed nearly three out of four Americans say lawmakers should ratify a nuclear treaty with Russia.  Yet some Republicans in the Senate have an agenda that values political gamesmanship above America’s security. Their claims of savaging taxpayer money ring hollow since they have not limited the amount of money they will use on the largely useless and unneeded “modernization” of nuclear weapons.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16th, the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey indicated that 73 percent of the public says the U.S. should vote in favor of the treaty between President Barack Obama and Russia that would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in each country, with 23 percent saying the accord should not be ratified by the Senate.  Even a majority of Republicans support the treaty!

Despite their words about fiscal responsibility, Republicans are willing to spend excessive money on an unneeded program that already has $85 billion committed over the next ten years. Far above what is needed according to most experts.

Besides the wisdom of Senator Lugar, Ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and foremost expert in the Senate on disarmament, why do the so-called moderate conservatives not show the same wisdom? Senators Snow and Collins from Maine have been curiously silent on the New START treaty in spite of their assertions of centrism. The treaty has be subject to many months of scrutiny, hearings and is supported by just about every national security expert in the nation…..except discredited far right types who now put themselves in the same bag as climate change and evolution deniers.

In informal discussion with Brits here in England they find our politics scary and opposition to arms control to be another element of an uninformed American political process and wonder where we are going. A vote against the New START will only contribute to their view that American leadership will be even less in effective amidst Republican dominance.

Message from London: Goals for the NATO Summit in Lisbon

Obama is now in Lisbon and the first issue that was addressed was an agreement on the NATO missile defense structure. It will not be the system that former President Bush suggested, and it will not name Iran explicitly due to objections by Turkey to doing so. The Russian president will come in later after the regular NATO Council meeting for the joint NATO-Russia Council and its agenda will include trying to get Russian cooperation on the system. Rumors abound that the cost of the missile defense may be too high for participating nations, especially those going into an economic tailspin.

A key issue, and the backdrop for the Lisbon meeting, is the New START treaty and reports indicate that Obama will make a full court press for ratification by using the summit as a platform to argue for early action on the treaty. Other reports in European papers condemn the Republicans for their obstruction. This was reaffirmed by the IHT editorial (from NY Times) titled “Perilous Obstruction.” It called for Obama to “fight hard” for the treaty.

The Lisbon summit will soon address some of the key strategic issues and decision on Afghanistan including basic goals, timelines, and the commitment of troops and resources. The BBC had earlier accused Obama of a lack of leadership but they have changed their tune in response to his setting of a new timetable. However, the Right remains critical of withdrawal even as Europeans are starting to draw down from their combat role. In response, the military has been pushing the idea that the “conditions on the ground” are the only acceptable metric to begin a withdrawal. Little real debate has emerged on the situation in the Afghanistan and our end-game strategy. The replacement of July 11th 2011 with 2014 as the date for combat drawdown will be a source of debate in the coming months as it is incorporated into the NATO framework. The Independent on Saturday will have the headline “In Lisbon They Talk, in Afghanistan They Die.” One TV station here had a picture of a British soldier being brought home.

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This Week in National Security News: 11/15-11/22

NATO Summit

NATO states have agreed to a cooperative missile shield to defense against nuclear weapons. Despite the creation of NATO as an anti-Soviet institution, it is expected that the Russians will cooperate in the creation of an inter-operable missile shield.

North Korea

North Korea has announced that is nearly complete with a second nuclear reactor facility. Although they claim that it is a light-water reactor, capable only of producing energy, Ambassador Bosworth and other experts doubt these North Korean claims. Many feel that this announcement is intended to leverage aid and financial support for North Korea during the 6-country talks.

New START

Obama received unprompted international support for the New START treaty by his counterparts at the NATO Lisbon summit. Of particular note is the support of New START by many Eastern European states who have the most to fear from a resurgent Russia. Support for foreign policy is in stark contrast to last weeks G-20 conference which was rife with acrimony over economic policy.

Afghanistan

Karzai continues to criticize the US strategy in Afghanistan. He and Obama have split on the subject of night-raids which Karzai claims is a major tactic that undercuts the US legitimacy amongst the Afghan civilians. The administration and military leaders have denied that this strategy is counter-productive by saying that night-raids are highly targeted and thus only directed at Taliban leaders who already hate us.

Airports

Despite public outcry over invasive airport security measures that include body-scans or pat downs, TSA chief Pistole stated that the TSA will not dramatically alter its security procedures. He maintains that the high levels of security are necessary given recent bomb scares like the foiled bomb scare on Christmas 2009.

I Want to Be the Administration Dissident

Sure, none of them did much good. George Kennan and David Lilienthal on the H-Bomb, George Ball, Chester Bowles, Adlai Stevenson in various crises – all failed, all were derided. I know. But, I still want to be President Obama’s resident dissident. Should be simple. I’m used to non-profit salaries and come cheap. And I once had a top secret clearance before protesting the Vietnam War as an active duty Army Captain.  Call me.

Take the recent maneuver by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ). He milks all the dough he can get for nuclear weapons out of playing hard to get on the new START Treaty. Then he humiliates the President by blocking the Treaty at the last minute. Kyl, an unctuous, oily, smarmy, yet smooth right-wing nut, has been playing this game since he was a Congressman back in the 20th Century.  I and other arms control lobbyists watched him play the same self-aggrandizing game over Star Wars as he wasted eons of floor debate, billions of our tax dollars, and undermined national security.

So what does President Obama do? He wraps himself in the old national security establishment at a White House event — as if any American under eighty knows who George Schultz is. Obama’s frame is that he’s defending our national security (and underlining his own lack of defense cred by surrounding himself with Generals and former Secretaries of Defense). And that he is in the tradition of Ronald Reagan and “Trust, but verify!”  Man, does this guy need a dissident at his table!

Mr. President, stop pussyfooting. Jon Kyl is a subversive, unpatriotic, anti-American guy who is being allowed to threaten American lives. Call him out. Tell him to resign. Get mad. Mr. Kyl does not understand the “aloha” spirit or Gandhi.

The bigger issue here than the counting and verifying of missiles, though that is important, is the wreckage of our “reset” of relations with Russia. Tell the public that Putin and his gang have helped us with the war in Afghanistan, stopped deals with Iran. We want these guys on our side, not against us in wartime. That Kyl would seek to wreck this growing cooperation with Russia while American lives are being lost is damned near treasonous. The more you knuckle under to these guys, the more they’ll take. It’s time for “Tear Down This Wall!” not “Trust, But Verify.” Or, even better. “This will not Stand.”

What Americans admire is character, principle, toughness (under lots of geniality and jokes) and the sense that you will fight. The new Congress is already licking their chops. They will attack and investigate you. How about a preemptive strike before they launch.

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Robert K. Musil is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Relations, American University, and the former CEO of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Reckless Republicans Stymie Arms Treaty and Inspection of Russian Strategic Weapons: There will be Consequences

This morning, the headline in the International Herald Tribune (IHT) was the announcement by Republican Senator Jon Kyl that he would block a vote on the New START treaty during the lame duck session this year. After extorting unneeded funding for the U.S. nuclear weapons complex for “weapon modernization”—a payoff of between $80-100 billion according to sources, which the administration has granted, with some $4 billion added within the last few weeks — Kyl has still said “no.”

Kyl clearly has other motives and they are not making a more secure America or helping global non-proliferation. In not giving the negotiating role to Senator Lugar but rather to his deputy Kyl, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has extended his “slash and burn” strategy to U.S. national security interests. There is not Obama initiative, no matter its value, that the Republicans will not oppose.

Given the outcome of the November 2 elections, ratification by the Senate is even more unlikely next year. The treaty is likely being held hostage for a wider bargaining on unrelated domestic issues like tax cuts for the rich.  These include reductions in tax revenues that could help the country dig out of our economic downturn and result in even deeper cuts in programs for the poor and middle class—including health care. Continue reading