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Tis’ the season, to (burden) share September 27, 2010

Posted by bfadtest in Analysis.
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by Risa Trump

Today the U.S. government spends at least $2 billion annually to permanently station 28,500 American troops in South Korea.  Less than half of this – 40 percent to be precise – is reimbursed by South Korea.  This cost is attributed largely to the mission of deterring North Korea, but does not fully account for an able and fully equipped South Korean military force.

A modern South Korean force suggests that the U.S. could scale back its spending while still deterring North Korean aggression (and be prepared should it ever come).  As Senator McCain (R-AZ) remarked in his opening statement at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing on the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, “there is no doubt…that South Korean forces are among the most capable and best equipped in the world.”

The worry, of course, is what the North Koreans are up to. North Korea is committed to a draconian “military first” policy in which nearly a quarter of its GDP goes to defense (estimated between $1.5 -$5 billion).  This buys a standing army ostensibly 1.1 million strong, with another 4.7 million troops in reserve and 620 combat aircrafts, 3,500 tanks and a 360-ship navy. South Korea’s force of 686,000 active troops and 4.5 million in reserve, supported by 538 combat aircrafts, 2,300 tanks and a 230-ship navy, looks paltry by comparison.   (See the International Institute of Strategic Studies.) (more…)


POGO’s nuclear report: Let’s talk substance, not scare tactics September 24, 2010

Posted by Hans-Inge Langø in Analysis.
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The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has thrown a curveball into the debate on the reduction of nuclear stockpiles by proposing that the U.S. government sell surplus uranium for a profit. In a new report, POGO is proposing to use a process called downblending to turn U.S. high grade enriched uranium (HEU) into low grade enriched uranium (LEU) and then sell the material as fuel for nuclear power plants. According to POGO’s estimates, the government stands to make a $23 billion profit.

The proposal offers a unique synergy between two separate priorities of the federal government. The U.S. already has a backlog of material to dismantle, but the Department of Energy has not made downblending a priority. In addition, should the new START treaty be ratified, the U.S. will have international obligations to reduce its nuclear arsenal.

POGO’s proposal offers a way of turning the Obama administration’s long-term foreign policy objectives of nuclear disarmament and the practical matter of disposing surplus material into a profitable enterprise. Selling LEU as fuel works as an economic incentive for DoE, and increased supply could also stimulate the energy sector. More fuel could mean more nuclear power plants and energy, which in turn could help the economy – though this is not discusses in the report.

Nuclear terrorism

POGO’s report is weaker on its second argument, pertaining to national security. It cites the threat of nuclear terrorism as an important reason for going through with their proposal. The argument goes that, in the wrong hands, HEU material can be used to set off a nuclear explosion, and so the U.S. should reduce its stockpiles to minimize this risk.


Noteworthy Report: Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint September 24, 2010

Posted by bfadtest in News.
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By Risa Trump

The CATO Institute’s Benjamin Friedman and Christopher Preble released a report this week recommending significant defense budget cuts. Molded around a security strategy of restraint, Friedman and Preble find $1.2 trillion of savings between FY 2011 and 2020 by setting priorities.

The report argues that DOD has taken on too much, stretching our forces thin and resulting in significant waste. A strategy of restraint recognizes that “power tempts the United States to meddle in foreign troubles we should avoid. Restraint means fighting that temptation.” By choosing a more rigid security strategy, the U.S. is able to clearly define what will make Americans safer., resulting in significant budget cuts because it requires less from the institutions that support the military.

Suggested cuts include reducing the end-force strength of the Marine Corps and Army by a third, cutting carrier battle groups by three (to eight), and eliminating six Air Force fighter-wing equivalents. Friedman and Preble propose cutting the Pentagon’s research and development budget by 10 percent and the overall intelligence budget by 15 percent. An added benefit is that a significant by-product of these cuts is the reduction in administrative overhead costs, which account for “approximately 40 percent of [the department’s] budget.”

Friedman and Preble are able to justify most of the force cuts by pointing out that most other countries are do not have anywhere near the same military capabilities as does the U.S., nor the same spending levels.  This chart, located on page 4 of the report, shows just how much the US spends compared to other nations.

With mid-term elections approaching and Americans becoming more leery of the growing budget deficit, this report proposes actionable recommendations not only in the realm of the budget but also more generally for national security. Emphasizing the need to choose a strategy and reduce the burden on not just the troops but also the Department on the whole, Friedman and Preble recommend a series of cuts that logically combine strategy and reality.

Continuity in Development Policy, but Implementation is Key September 23, 2010

Posted by Laura A. Hall in Analysis.
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by Laura A. Hall

Photo courtesy of CNN.com

Listening to President Obama’s speech at the UN and reading the new U.S. Global Development Policy, one cannot help but notice how similar the themes sounded to those of his predecessor.  This suggests we may have entered an era when there is little political difference in how the parties approach development and when effectiveness and sustainability will trump faddish approaches [1].  The real issues coming from this week’s announcements will be in the implementation and management, where the bureaucratic weeds can entangle any policy.

Baby Not Thrown Out With Bathwater: Overall Continuity in Approach

The new policy, despite assertions, is hardly the first of its kind, as the Bush team had a clear set of goals and strategies that it followed.  The Bush development strategy treated development as a major national security imperative that reflected American values in order to put resources behind it.

The Bush Administration, for all of the critique it received from progressive and liberal voices, did earn a lot of credit for its international development assistance. Bush’s approach focused on good governance, private sector led growth, and host country leadership.  Among its specific efforts, the Bush Administration:

  • Doubled, then doubled again, official development assistance;
  • Instituted new, major programs targeting specific diseases with massive resources and an intention to address underlying governance and systemic deficiencies in order to create long-term, sustainable solutions;
  • Instituted a new program that relied on developing country leadership and rewarded good governance;

All of these approaches appear in the Obama administration policy.  This is welcome in terms of consistency and continuity. It is also important because the focus on aid effectiveness, local ownership, linkages between governance and investment climate, and on the role of the private sector and trade can harness the interests of the private sector and private voluntary donors and combine them with the unique role played by the government. (more…)

Indicators, but Not a Strategy: Assessing the MDGs and US Assistance Strategy September 23, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Cutler in Analysis.
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by Elizabeth Cutler and Laura A. Hall

International leaders flocked to New York City this week for the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals. Meeting Monday through Wednesday of this week, the summit served as an opportunity to “take stock” of the MDGs’ progress thus far on a global scale. The last review conference was in 2008.  Moreover, in anticipation of the summit, ample research and evaluation of the goals’ status worldwide was executed by numerous organizations, including the UNDP and the Overseas Development Institute (funded partly by the Gates Foundation) among others.

Established by the UN General Assembly in September 2000, the MDGs reflected an international commitment to approaching sustainable development, global health, and poverty reduction in ways that would be more tangible than before. Although much of the MDG language is still steeped in ambiguity—reaffirming commitment and expressing concern saturates the original resolution—more specific goals such as striving to cut maternal mortality rates by three quarters offer a more tangible goalpost. In doing so, as Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development articulated, the goals have succeeded in international fundraising:

“The MDGs evolved out of a set of goals created at the OECD in the mid-1990s …. By 2005 the level [of official development assistance] had doubled to around $120 billion and it has hovered around this level ever since.” (more…)

National Security Spending, Current State of Play September 22, 2010

Posted by Rebecca Williams in Analysis.
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In Congress, there are plenty of exceptions, workarounds, and impromptu procedures that challenge the conventional budget and appropriations process.  This year seems to be especially frustrating, mostly due to political maneuvering to delay voting on any divisive issue until after the mid-term elections in November.

The House did not pass a budget resolution for the first time since the creation of the budget committees, leading the Senate to not pass one as well.  The House later passed a deeming resolution setting spending limits while the Senate’s only fixed point is the Appropriations Committee’s spending guidance, which is not binding on the full Senate.

In all likelihood, Congress has shelved passing any legislation until after the November mid-term elections.  To date, the House has passed two of the 12 appropriations bills but has not reported out of committee the remaining 10.  The Senate, on the other hand, has not passed a single appropriations bill but has reported out of committee 11 of the 12 spending bills.  Given the state of play, Congress will have to pass a Continuing Resolution, an unfortunately common occurrence, to maintain federal spending at FY2010 levels.

Budget Insight will continue to track the legislation that determines U.S. national security spending.  Here is the bill breakdown: (more…)

Congress shows essential leadership in debate on military export controls September 21, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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Mikhail Kalashnikov and Robert Oppenheimer (photo) were the 20th century’s most influential scientists of war.  Both produced weapons responsible for massive destruction – Oppenheimer, the nuclear bomb, and Kalashnikov, the Soviet-issue AK-47 assault rifle.

Which of these types of equipment should the U.S. subject to stricter export controls?  Next generation high technology literally has reached the point of being able to destroy the world in minutes, a uniquely consequential act but one that now is extraordinarily improbable, partly because so much of U.S. foreign policy has been dedicated to keeping a lid on the Pandora’s box that Oppenheimer opened.  The simplest tools of violence, by contrast, take their victims one-by-one but every day.  Like the AK-47, they are inexpensive, durable, fool-proof, and ubiquitous around the world, killing millions with industrial efficiency.

Many would argue that the U.S. should sell military equipment, both the simple and the complex, only with a clear strategic purpose and to the most trusted of buyers.  After all, a country’s approach to arms trading speaks volumes about its values and shapes the risks it faces internationally.

Not President Obama, though.  He believes in building “higher walls around the export of our most sensitive items while allowing the export of less critical ones under less restrictive conditions. “ This will strengthen our national security, he argues, while also helping us increase exports and create jobs.

The President undoubtedly is under tremendous pressure to create jobs, but economic stimulus is no reason to mortgage American values and redefine our role in the world.  National Security Advisor Jim Jones backpedaled from this impression on the same day Obama made that comment, assuring the public that the President’s ongoing National Export Initiative also would enhance “our government’s ability to find violators and bring them to justice.”

No such move is yet apparent from the executive branch.  Congress, on the other hand, just took a very meaningful step in that direction.  Last Thursday the House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 5366, stipulating that “any person found to be in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 shall be proposed for debarment from any contract or grant awarded by the Federal Government.”


The Afghan National Security Forces bubble September 20, 2010

Posted by Hans-Inge Langø in Analysis.
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Image courtesy of ISAF media.

The United States expects to spend about $6 billion a year through 2015 training and supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) according to a NATO training document recently obtained by the Associated Press. Few are surprised that our economic commitment in Afghanistan will outlast major military operations. More concerning is the fact that the Pentagon had a specific cost estimate but opted not to disclose it to the American people, instead leaving it to media leaks.  That information is essential to major policy judgments like: Is it worth it?  Is it enough?  And, even more simply, is the mission sustainable?

Is it worth it?

U.S. “train and equip” spending in Afghanistan aims to build up an Afghan security force sufficient to defeat the Taliban and preserve the central government. This is decidedly not cheap – It costs about $25,000 a year per Afghan soldier and $25 billion a year in total. Judging by recent reports, the U.S. is not getting its money’s worth in this area.

Building up Afghanistan’s security forces has been fraught with setbacks, including a staggering attrition rate and poor training.  Press reports suggest that the Afghan National Civil Order Police’s (ANCOP) attrition rate has been as high as 82 percent, and is currently somewhere above 50 percent. The Force’s operational capability suffers obviously as a result. As of February, only one of Afghanistan’s more than 360 districts has been deemed completely capable of conducting operations independently. Only 14 other districts received readiness ratings of 85 percent or higher.

Things are no better for the Afghan National Army (ANA). Though improving, attrition remains between 50 and 60 percent –despite the significant pay raise in January 2010. Operational capabilities also remain less than satisfactory, according to a Pentagon report, though somewhat better than the police force. 22 ANA units were given a mark of 85 percent or better, 35 got 70-84 percent, and 28 only reached 51-69 percent. (more…)

Pot calls kettle black: the Pentagon’s annual China report September 16, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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by Matt Leatherman and Mariah Quinn

Sometimes Congresses and administrations spend on the military in response to America’s overseas challenges.  Other times Congresses and administrations create or inflate overseas challenges in order to excuse money they want to spend.

The Pentagon’s congressionally-mandated annual report on the Chinese military tends to be just such a rationalization.  After all, Al Qaeda and the Taliban aren’t going to justify resurrecting the Future Combat Systems’ ground combat vehicle, recertifying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter after a breach of Nunn-McCurdy cost controls, insisting on ballistic missile defense decades after the Cold War ended, or maintaining 11 carrier strike groups when no other country has more than one.

Like all rationalizations, though, this one is littered with uncomfortable irony.  The Pentagon’s report, released in August, determined that “the limited transparency in China’s military and security affairs enhances uncertainty and increases the potential for misunderstanding and miscalculation.” Stroll through that sentence a little more slowly, and it’s easy to think that the word  “China” could very well be replaced with “United States” without the reader missing a beat. (more…)

Gordon Adams on The Diane Rehm Show September 14, 2010

Posted by Elizabeth Cutler in Analysis.
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Today’s Diane Rehm Show on NPR featured Gordon Adams, along with James Kitfield and Kori Schake, to discuss the nation’s debt, the pressures on the Pentagon to rein in defense spending, and the implications of the two on national security.

Dr. Adams emphasized the Pentagon’s account is one of the budgetary “big four” for the federal government, comparable in size to social security, means-tested entitlements, and non-defense discretionary spending. Each must be on the table in order to control federal debt.  Now is the right time to impose that discipline as U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The full broadcast is accessible below.