Obama Outlines a Leaner, Cleaner Defense Strategy

Jan 31, 2012Chris Scanzoni

tank-newThe Obama administration's plans to slim down the Pentagon reflect many of the forward-looking defense strategies embraced by the Millennial Generation.

In his State of the Union Address last week, President Barack Obama declared:

The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe. Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever. Our ties to the Americas are deeper... Yes, the world is changing. No, we can't control every event. But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs.

To sustain its influence, the U.S. must adapt its defense policies to the changing global arena in ways that are both strategically and fiscally sound. In early 2011, students associated with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, including myself, collaborated to produce the Budget for Millennial America, a meticulously crafted plan to help the United States meet the challenges of the 21st century in a fiscally responsible but compassionate way. Within this budget lies a compelling vision for a strong foreign policy, emphasizing diplomacy over force. By advocating for a leaner, modernized defense posture, the Millennial Budget would prepare the United States to more efficiently confront the rising threats of the 21st century: transnational terrorism and crime, nuclear proliferation by rogue states, and climate change.

A year later, I'm thrilled to see that many of the proposals that the Campus Network students developed are reflected in the Obama administration's 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance report. In the Millennial Budget, we decried the "misguided, costly" Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. I'm pleased that President Obama has kept his campaign promise of scaling down the wars as well as the size of conventional forces. With reduced U.S. military involvement abroad, the Pentagon now aims to reduce the Army to a pre-September 11 size of 480,000.

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The administration's report also emphasizes the emerging "strategic opportunity to rebalance the U.S. military investment in Europe, moving from a focus on current conflicts toward a focus on future capabilities." The Obama administration and the Pentagon intend to help our European allies pool resources to provide collective European security. The report language implies a low-cost and reduced American footprint on the continent in the future. Our Millennial Budget proposed a cap on U.S. forward deployment in Europe and Asia of 100,000 personnel, which is a 26 percent reduction from current levels. While the U.S. has an obligation to ensure the security of its allies, the threats of the 21st century no longer demand large force structures.

Another common element in both the Pentagon review and the Millennial Budget is a concerted effort to eliminate wasteful weapons programs and to revise a corrupt and broken procurement system. In accordance with the prescriptions of the federally established Sustainable Defense Task Force, the Millennial Budget advocates for the retirement of the MV-22 Osprey and F-35 programs. While these particular programs were not identified in the Pentagon strategic review, many retirements of existing combat ships and cruisers and airlift fleets are planned. Additionally, the Pentagon terminated or proposed a reevaluation of the procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter, Army Ground Combat Vehicle, Joint Land Attack, Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, Joint Air-to-Ground Munition, Global Hawk Block 30, Defense Weather Satellite System, Commercial satellite imagery, and High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle. This is an admirable effort to improve the modernity, efficiency, and agility of U.S. weapons acquisition.

The new Strategic Review also prescribes a more concerted focus on nuclear nonproliferation, special operations and intelligence, as well as increased funding for U.S. cyber security, all hallmarks of the Millennial Budget. However, in a sharp departure from Millennial Budget priorities, the Pentagon intends to maintain the bomber leg of the "nuclear triad," which consists of three delivery components for nuclear arms: bomber aircrafts, land-based missiles, and ballistic missile submarines. The Obama administration should end this redundant and expensive component of U.S. strategic deterrence. Millennials firmly believe that substantial cost savings can be found in the antiquated and increasingly expensive U.S. nuclear architecture, whose size and capability far exceed that needed to counter 21st century threats. A responsible scaling back of the U.S. nuclear arsenal will save an additional $11 billion annually.

Ultimately, the Obama administration and the Pentagon deserve applause for a long-overdue strategic reassessment of U.S. military capabilities, ambitions, and resources. Simultaneously, groups like the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network must continue to advocate for prudent reduction in wasteful defense spending and reinvestment in our most promising assets for global influence: diplomacy, foreign aid, clean energy innovation and energy independence, and collective security organizations.

Chris Scanzoni is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying public policy analysis, mathematical decision sciences, and history. He is active on both a chapter and national level with the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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