Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced his proposal to decrease defense spending and shrink the size of the U.S. military on Feb. 24 — a feat that will likely be met with resistance from large defense spending supporters in Congress. President Barack Obama is slated to submit the 2015 budget plan to Congress next week and Hagel revealed defense budget details, including a plan to reduce the active-duty army from 522,000 soldiers to around 440,000. Critics claim that shrinking the army to pre-World War II size will be detrimental to modern U.S. military efforts, but a reduction in the overall defense budget is necessary as Obama scales back the war efforts in Afghanistan and refocuses the military on cutting costs across the board.
In the fiscal year of 2014, the government will spend $3.8 trillion, 17 percent of which is focused on the military. Equally if not more important areas such as education, energy and the environment receive next to nothing in comparison. Currently, only 2 percent of the budget goes to education and a mere 1 percent toward sustainable energy — scaling back military spending would allow the government to redistribute more funds to these areas, or to even tackle the deficit.
Hagel is correct in his choice to realign the Pentagon with a smaller, high-tech platform and away from the larger, troop-reliant Cold War-era model. Hagel has been shrewd in calculating his proposed budget, providing a budget for an additional 3,700 special operations troops and ring fencing the budget for cyberwarfare while scraping excessive, outmoded programs such as the new ground combat vehicle.
Hagel’s new strategy is a decision from within rather than a rash political ploy. It is both fiscally responsible and militarily viable. However, this will be a tough pill for Congress to swallow with defense advocates on both sides of the aisle loathe to see military bases close during a midterm election cycle. Attempting to derail the Pentagon budget may prove far worse for members of Congress. Gridlock and the real possibility of further sequestration if Congress does not accept the budget may have grave consequences, including cuts of major projects. Hagel has presented an honest assessment of the reforms required to ensure that standards of fiscal responsibility as well as national security are met. It is the duty of Congress to accept it.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 25 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]