US Foreign Policy

Establishing the Next President’s National Security Agenda: How to Confront the Budget Morass

In the third part of a series originally written for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Gordon Adams examines the complexities of the nearly-unwieldly defense budget.

Making matters much harder, the Office of Management and Budget exempted three agencies from this guidance–the Defense Department, the international affairs agencies (mainly the State Department and US Agency for International Development), and the Department of Homeland Security. So the defense secretary and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs are preparing a little surprise for the new president: While the White House won’t transmit a formal budget, the Pentagon is currently undertaking a full budget plan. How the results will get to Congress isn’t clear, but they will most certainly be made public, daring the new president to change the plan.

If Obama or McCain wants to define and execute his own national security strategy; if he wants to get control over defense spending; if he wants to invest in diplomacy and foreign assistance and development; and if he wants the flexibility to address a growing agenda of domestic issues or a persistent deficit, it will be important to establish strategic guidelines early on and restore strategic and budgetary discipline to the Pentagon. This means ignoring the resource plan the Pentagon is currently producing and returning to the basics.

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