US Foreign Policy

New Stimson Report Recommends Changes to US Defense Budget to Strengthen National Security

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Senior national security experts and former government officials convened by the Stimson Center today issued a report outlining a new defense strategy that would advance America’s national security but still make it possible to cut about $50 billion from the Defense Department’s annual budget.

The report describes 27 specific recommendations to implement the new strategy, called “Strategic Agility,” as an alternative to the across-the-board budget cuts required by sequestration.

The report, titled “Strategic Agility: Strong National Defense for Today’s Global and Fiscal Realities,” represents the consensus of Stimson’s 17-member Defense Advisory Committee and includes detailed options for how the Department of Defense can advance an updated defense strategy that maintains U.S. national security while meeting required budget levels.

Committee members include two former vice chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a former Air Force chief of staff, a former chief of naval operations, and two retired four-star Army generals.

President Obama and both houses of Congress are proposing budgets for fiscal year 2014 that exceed spending levels required by law. As a result, Defense Advisory Committee members say, once Congress adjourns sequester will again kick in this January, resulting in almost $50 billion in indiscriminate defense spending cuts.

The report issued today presents a better way of meeting the spending caps by implementing the Strategic Agility defense strategy that emphasizes the strengths of America’s armed forces.

“Adopting this new strategy and making the corresponding budget adjustments we recommend makes a lot more sense than cutting blindly and causing tremendous harm,” said Committee Chairman and Stimson Co-founder Barry Blechman. “The political gridlock preventing rational, strategy-driven defense decisions is a self-inflicted wound that is dangerously weakening the ability of the US armed forces to defend our nation.”

To watch a video of the Capitol Hill presentation of the report’s findings, click here.

The budget savings recommended by the Defense Advisory Committee fall into three broad categories:

  • $22.4 billion in management reforms. These would cut excess military and civilian personnel in headquarters and defense agencies, reduce centralized training, reform military retirement and health benefits, and eliminate funding for unnecessary commissaries and exchanges.
  • $21.4 billion in changes to force structure. These would maintain robust space, air, naval and special operations forces, and expand investment in cybercapabilities, but reduce active forces best suited for protracted wars and cut back nuclear forces. The restructuring would take advantage of the cost-effective strategic depth provided by the National Guard and Reserve.
  • $5.7 billion in reduced modernization costs. These would maintain the long-range strike bomber and increase the number of AEGIS destroyers for theater missile defenses. The adjustments would freeze missile defenses in the United States and purchases of new ground vehicles. The cuts would also slow purchases of F-35 fighter jets and ballistic missile submarines, cut back tactical nuclear weapons, and shift development resources toward advanced technologies.

The new report updates a study the Defense Advisory Committee issued in November 2012 that first proposed the Strategic Agility framework and laid out priorities implied by the strategy.

“Strategic Agility was developed by looking at the interests of the United States and the threats to those interests, and then considering the US military’s comparative strengths and weaknesses,” Blechman said. “It’s based on an analysis of how best to protect US national security, which we found could be accomplished at a lower cost.”

The report was made possible by a grant from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Here is a full list of all 27 Defense Advisory Committee recommendations, with their projected savings in the 2015 fiscal year:

Members of the Defense Advisory Committee:

Professor Gordon Adams – American University. Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs, Office of Management and Budget (1993-1997).

Professor Graham Allison – Harvard University. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy and Plans (1993-1994).

Mr. Michael Bayer – Chairman of the Defense Business Board (2007-2011).

General B.B. Bell, USA (Ret.) – Commander of US Army, Europe (2002-2005) and US Forces, Korea (2006-2008).

Professor Richard K. Betts – Columbia University.

Dr. Barry Blechman (Chairman) – Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center.

Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield, Jr. – Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs (2001-2005).

Ambassador Richard Burt – US Ambassador to Germany (1985-1989) and Chief Negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (1989-1991).

General James Cartwright, USMC (Ret.) – Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (2007- 2011).

Lt. General Daniel Christman, USA (Ret.) – US Representative to the NATO Military Committee (1993-1994) and West Point Superintendent (1996-2001).

Dr. Leslie Gelb – President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs (1977-1979).

Dr. Jessica Tuchman Mathews – President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Mr. Philip Odeen – CEO and Chairman, TRW Inc. (2002)

Admiral Bill Owens, USN (Ret.) – Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1994-1996).

Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.) – Chief of Naval Operations (2007-2011).

General Norton Schwartz, USAF (Ret.) – Air Force Chief of Staff (2008-2012).

Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter – President and CEO, New America Foundation. State Department Director of Policy Planning (2009-2011).


Photo by Patrick A. Albright via US Army



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