The Perils Of Downsizing

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Image credit: 
Marko Marcello, Shutterstock

The current downward trends in fighter wings and conventional ground forces are likely to continue, given the ongoing shrinkage of the defense budget, and carrier groups appear to be headed in the same direction. The downsizing certainly could have been avoided had the executive and legislative branches been determined to avoid it. When the slashing of the defense budget began in 2011, proponents contended that the cuts were needed to reduce the long-term federal deficit. Yet defense spending as a percentage of GDP was lower in 2011 than it had been for most of the Cold War, even with a sizable war still in progress in Afghanistan, whereas domestic spending stood at historic highs. Although the Obama administration professed an intent to slash all parts of the federal budget for deficit-reduction purposes, the budget deal it convinced Congress to adopt exempted non-discretionary domestic spending and put half of the cuts on the Defense Department, which accounted for only twenty percent of the budget.

Supporters of cutting the military contended that Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated the ineffectiveness of American land power. From here on, it has been argued, the United States will be smart enough to avoid getting dragged into another large war. The United States can handle most international threats and crises with diplomacy, economic sanctions, and foreign aid. If force is absolutely necessary, the United States can rely upon allies to provide much of the fighting strength.

History, however, has demonstrated the perils of assuming military strength to be outmoded. The United States slashed its military after World War I, World War II, and the Cold War based on this assumption, only to find itself ill-prepared for the next wars, which came much sooner than expected. The numerous conflicts bubbling in today’s world give reason to believe that history is liable to repeat itself.