Has HASC—the House Armed Services Committee—prevented World War III? That depends on whether the Congressional Super Committee, charged with slicing a trillion-dollars plus from the federal budget, listens to what HASC has to say.
If the Super Committee heeds HASC’s warning and refrains from savaging the already anemic defense budgets proposed by President Obama, America may be able to continue to be a stabilizing force in an increasingly dangerous world. If not—well, we could soon find ourselves embroiled in a world war of 1914-like scope.
The majority staff of the HASC has produced a controversial report outlining the range of the cuts the Pentagon would have to make under the “sequestration” formula in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The scenario presented is sensationally scary—and most likely dead-on accurate.
The report offers a reasonable guess of how the armed forces would implement mandatory cuts under sequestration. Arguably, the Pentagon brass might make some different choices in how to tighten the military belt, but if they did cut a few less planes, for example, they would have to shed a few more ships or thin the ranks even more. So as rule of thumb for what a “sequestered” military might look like, the HASC prediction is as good as any.
Big picture summary: the military would be even smaller than it was under President Bill ("Peace Dividend") Clinton. Likewise, as a percentage of the federal budget, defense spending would fall to sub-Clinton levels.
Without question, the military capability would be greatly diminished. “The Navy will likely mothball more than 60 ships,” the report concludes, “including two carrier battle groups, while we give up nearly a third of Army Maneuver Battalions and Air Force fighters, a quarter of our bombers, and jeopardize our ability to defend America against a nuclear attack. As a service, the Marine Corps will be broken…”
What the report doesn’t do, however, is explain what this will mean to the American people.
Some media coverage has fixated on the prospect that reduced military spending might force return of the draft. Actually, the report makes the case that a “draft” would be the least of the Pentagon’s problems. Under a “sequestered” budget, the services would go broke just paying all the costs associated with converting from an “all-volunteer” to conscription force. Nor would the effort be worth it—under the projected budgets, service men and women—be they volunteers or draftees—would not have enough ships, planes, and vehicles to fight with anyway.
Here is the bottom line: The military remaining after sequestration took effect would be unable to do what our military has done since World War II—be able to prevent World War III. That’s because the U.S. would cease to be a global military power.
Absent a global force, regional powers will scramble for primacy in their part of the world. Increasingly this will lead to friction and conflict. Seeking advantage, the regional competitors will enter unstable, frequently shifting alliances. And U.S. military power won’t be there to act as a brake. The freedom of the seas and the other “commons” that we (and other nations) have enjoyed will be gone. Cracks and fissures between regional rivals will become a devil’s playground for transnational criminal cartels and terrorists. Until one day—it is 1914 all over again.
Make, no mistake that is the future that could well happen if America has to be protected by a “sequestered” military.
The military’s future is uncertain enough under the cuts President Obama already envisions. In two years, the forces we have will likely go “hollow” from lack of adequate funds for training, operations, sustainment, and maintenance. This kind of neglect is reversible. A “sequestered” American military might never recover.
Forget about the sequestered budget, Congress must be wary of a Super Committee recommendation that piles on any defense cuts beyond those already on the books. Additional cuts over the next 10 years would render impossible any effort over the next two years to remedy the disastrous blows to readiness already locked in under the president’s budget proposal.
James Jay Carafano is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.