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Naval protection of peacetime commerce: An attempted but failed subsidy October 5, 2010

Posted by Guest Blogger in Analysis.
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By Benjamin Friedman

Benjamin Friedman is research fellow in defense and homeland security studies at the Cato Institute.

The Cato Policy Analysis that I recently completed with my colleague Christopher Preble, Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint, has enough detail about cutting the defense budget to bore most casual readers to tears. (Risa Trump wrote about it here anyway) But the description of the non-interventionist* strategy that underlies the cuts is full of ideas and statements that may stir more people’s interest or ire.

One such statement is that, “despite its popularity, there is scant evidence for the claim that international commerce requires American military hegemony.” Read more…


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.

The spy system that bankrupted me September 11, 2010

Posted by Matthew Leatherman in Analysis.
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The United States “should level off, if not cut back, on intelligence.” Not what you’d expect to hear from former congressman Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission.  But he’s right.  The charge to Congress and the administration this September 11th is “less!” – less structure, less data, and less money.

The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, inspired by the 9/11 Commission’s findings, was great politics.  “Connecting the dots” – the intelligence community version of “just do it” or “have it your way” – shouldn’t be a problem with an entirely new Director of National Intelligence and National Counterterrorism Center.  And, in the meantime, throwing money at the problem helped Congress avoid choices about priorities and the charges of neglect that always follow from those slighted.

So our response so far to the September 11th attack has been “more!” – more structure, data, and money.  The problem is that collecting dots isn’t the same as connecting them.  We are now awash in intelligence – if the tidal wave of tidbits arriving every day can be so called – but still insufficiently able to understand it.

Russell Travers, a deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), gave us a sense of the problem.  “Every day, approximately, plus or minus, 10,000 names” come to NCTC’s attention.  Combined with other elements of intelligence, the day’s collection “sometimes [is] described as vastly exceeding the holdings of the Library of Congress.”  The consequence is that Mr. Travers’ morning briefing can run up to 840 pages, by his own accounting.

“Unmanageable” doesn’t do this situation justice.  There will never be enough intelligence analysts to read and interpret a Library of Congress each day, and there shouldn’t be.  At this point, Congress must step up to its mandate, politically uncomfortable though it is, and drive the intelligence community toward priority-setting.  It’s essential for our national security – collecting dots is interfering with connecting them.

Getting control of resources is the natural way to compel choices about priorities, but that’s extraordinarily difficult since every meaningful detail about the intelligence budget is classified.  So Congress is going to have to start somewhere simpler.  The intelligence community currently is exempt from investigations by the Government Accountability Office, but a bill to change that is winding its way through Congress.   (See H.AMDT 666 to H.R. 5136)  It should be passed.  Nothing the federal government does should be so secret that it is wholly unaccountable.

Understanding how the risk of terror attack has changed also is important.  Cue former Rep. Hamilton again, along with his 9/11 Commission co-chair Tom Kean and terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman.  Yesterday they released an update assessment on the threat of terror attack.   It acknowledged that Al Qaeda’s capability to mount mass casualty attacks has plummeted, even though it continues to have that aspiration, and concluded that we now face a “dynamic threat that has diversified to a broad array of attacks.”

The emotional response to this diffusion is “to cover the waterfront,” as Hoffman suggested during the report’s roll-out.  But the right response is that Congress and the administration have to start consciously managing risk.  Hoffman’s one comment aside, this report takes a step in the that direction by naming the attacks that are likely to happen – suicide bombings, swarming assaults, and assassinations – as well as those that aren’t – WMD terrorism or anything in outside of major population centers.

Resources should follow those risks.  In addition to undermining our security, it’s fiscally irresponsible to do otherwise, especially when federal debt is nearly equal to national income and our national defense budget, of which intelligence is a part, is at heights unmatched since World War II.  Take it from Lee Hamilton – there’s no time like the present to stop buying national insecurity.

Cutting Defense: Is Bob Gates Behind the Curve? September 7, 2010

Posted by Gordon Adams in Analysis.
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This post by Gordon Adams originally appeared on Capital Gains and Games and is reprinted here.

By now much virtual ink has been devoted to the “cuts” that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates proposes in the defense budget and defense programs.  These have been treated as a clear statement of intention that DOD will contribute to the overall effort at restraining federal spending, the deficit, and the growing national debt.

In reality, the Gates strategy does not make any contribution to restraining federal spending or reducing the deficit.  And in trying to avoid cutting his budget, he is putting the Pentagon behind the curve in the growing effort to discipline the federal budget and on a collision course with other parts of federal spending and revenues.

The Gates “cuts” are nothing of the sort.  He has, to be sure, pushed hard inside the Pentagon to focus on priorities, eliminate hardware programs like the F-22 and the Army’s vehicle program (the “Future Combat System)”.  In August, he announced plans to close the Joint Forces Command in Virginia, trim other headquarters, reduce the number of military flag officers, reduce spending on contractors, and find other efficiencies in DOD. (more…)