Acton Institute Powerblog

Presidential Debate, Defense Spending, and Military Readiness

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Quoting former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Mitt Romney was right to make the point that the federal deficit is the biggest national security threat to our country. Romney has also been critical of President Obama for failing to resolve significant cuts to defense spending under the Budget Control Act. Both political parties agree these cuts would be a disaster and they were implemented primarily as a motivational mechanism for real budget reform.

While cuts to defense will not solve our budget crisis, considering the depth of our spending mess, defense cuts can’t be ruled out entirely. Acton’s own principles for budget reform declare, “While no federal spending measures should be immune from cuts, our funding priorities should reflect the constitutional responsibilities and duties of the federal government.”

The defense budget was raised dramatically over the last decade to combat terrorism and fight two wars. Certainly as some forces draw down, savings can be made along with new investments for national defense and readiness. At home, we also have a moral obligation to care for our wounded warriors, which I addressed at greater length in a 2009 commentary, “Veterans First on Health Care.”

The challenge of course is securing savings while not compromising our constitutional charge to defend the country. Defense spending and defense budgets are a complex subject, but there are areas for savings. The military has a fairly long tradition of acting in one degree or another as a social laboratory. Military social programs continue to swallow up even more of the defense budget. I leave you with these words offered by Allen Baker in a discussion I had with him this morning. Baker, a combat veteran, served as a naval aviator:

We are three aircraft carriers short of providing absolute minimum coverage. When the “Arab Spring” sprung, guess what wasn’t in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time in a half-century? (Hint for Pres Obama: It’s a ship where airplanes take off and land). Ditto when terrorists murdered our ambassador in Benghazi. No U.S. carriers nearby (despite the clearly elevated threat). That’s because we have too few, and the ones we have are either worn out, or are wearing out at a faster-than-programmed rate due to the extremely high operations-tempo . . .

They are building multi-million dollar child development centers in places like Columbus, Miss. while the Training Squadrons have broken jets sitting idly on the ramp for lack of parts and maintenance . . .

The Army needs new tanks. Smaller, faster, cheaper. New helicopters, too. Less child development and ‘total warrior support’ and just more warriors and weapons. Simple stuff, really.

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of the the North State Journal in Raleigh, North Carolina. Previously, he was managing editor of Acton Institute's Religion & Liberty quarterly. In 2005 Ray graduated with a Master of Divinity (M.Div) degree from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He also holds a B.A. in Political Science from The University of Mississippi in Oxford.


  • RayNothstine

    I think there is room for cuts. That was a big part of my point. The fiscal situation is so dire we need to look at cutting spending in all areas. There is certainly a lot of waste and Congressional pork foisted on the military with weapons they no longer or ever wanted. A lot of it starts with greater accountability over our Congress.

    At the same time, there are critical shortfalls in some areas so we need to plan better for the future and make smarter choices when it comes to defense spending. Perhaps I will expand on some of these points in a future post.

    • Martial_Artist

      Mr. Nothstine,
      You write “A lot of it starts with greater accountability over our Congress.”
      Inasmuch as that can only be accomplished by changing the law, which is the responsibility of Congress, how would you propose we, i.e., the electorate, persuade a majority in both houses of Congress that they need to cede some significant part of their authority? That seems like a very big request to make of people, many of whom are intoxicated on their own importance.
      Pax et bonum,
      Keith Töpfer