The Corner

A Stunning Rebuke of Our Current Defense Policies

Those familiar with the Constitution know that the federal government is given certain enumerated powers but in general is not required to exercise them. For example, Congress has the power under Article One to enact a bankruptcy code, but felt no urgency in doing so, and in fact did not pass a permanent bankruptcy statute until the end of the 19th Century.

Only one federal power is obligatory. Article IV, Section IV of the Constitution states that the United States “shall protect each of them (the States) from invasion.”

In other words, the only thing the federal government must do under the Constitution is provide for the common defense. So how is the government doing on that? 

Every four years, the Department of Defense issues its “Quadrennial Defense Review” which is supposed to be a thorough evaluation of the state of the military and its plans for the future. The latest “QDR”, as it’s typically called, came out last spring. In the meantime, Congress passed a statute creating an Independent Panel to analyze the QDR and make recommendations regarding the armed forces. 

That panel was co-chaired by Bill Perry, former secretary of defense under President Clinton, and retired General John Abizaid. There were eight other members appointed on a bipartisan basis by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. (I was one of them.) 

The panel issued its unanimous report yesterday. It’s a stunning rebuke of the government’s defense policies over the last three years. The report is available at, but here are excerpts from its analysis:


‐Because of the “scale and sophistication” of China’s “rapid military buildup”, “the balance of power in the Western Pacific is changing in a way unfavorable to the United States.”  

‐“A war on the Korean peninsula or an internal crisis ending in the collapse of the North Korean regime” is a “plausible contingency” and would be “most stressing” to the armed forces.

‐“The threat of Islamic terrorism is higher today than it was on September 10, 2001.”

‐“Russia presents a more serious security threat than was the case a decade ago. . . . Accordingly, the United States can no longer simply assume that Europe will be a net security provider.”

‐“Several nuclear armed states, including Russia, China, and Pakistan, are modernizing their arsenals even as proliferation continues, with North Korea obtaining a nuclear weapons capability and Iran developing capabilities that would enable one.” Additionally, “a number of potential adversaries are giving increased attention to how they could use their nuclear forces for coercive leverage against the United States and its allies in a crisis or conflict.” 

‐In the 1990s, the United States planned its defenses “against the standard of defeating adversaries in two geographically separate regions nearly simultaneously”.  But “in the current threat environment, the United States could plausibly be called upon to deter or fight in (five) regions in overlapping time frames: the Korean peninsula, in the East or South China Sea, in the Middle East, South Asia, and quite possibly in Europe.” 


‐“If a force sized at (larger) levels was necessary twenty years ago, when the world was much more stable and less risky, that is powerful evidence that the substantially smaller force of today . . . is too small.”  “Given proliferating security threats, any reasonable review will conclude that the Navy and Air Force should be larger than they are today, and that the QDR’s contemplated reduction in active Army end strength goes too far.”

‐“The severe budget cuts of the last several years have presented the Department with a choice between needed capacity and needed capability — that is, between reducing a force that is already too small and cutting the modernization programs that will make the force more effective and less vulnerable . . . [But] in the current budgetary environment, the choice before the Department is really no choice at all; the existing baseline will fully support neither the capability nor the capacity that the Department needs.”


‐ “In 2009 and 2010, then secretary of defense Bob Gates engaged in a concerted effort to cut unnecessary or underperforming programs . . . [Then] in early 2011, Secretary Gates proposed a budget . . . which recommended modest nominal dollar increases in defense budgets across the remainder of the decade . . . His budget would have permitted the Department to begin increasing the size of the Navy and funding other modernization programs necessary to sustaining the technological advantage that is a key component of future preparedness.”

‐“However, later that same year the Budget Control Act and the conditional sequester became law. The cumulative effect of those actions was to reduce the Gates FY2012 budget baseline by nearly one trillion dollars over 10 years.”  In addition, “today the Department is facing major readiness shortfalls that will, absent a decisive reversal of course, create the possibility of a hollow force that loses its best people, underfunds procurement, and shortchanges innovation. The fact that each service is experiencing degradations in so many areas at once is especially troubling at a time of growing security challenges.”

“The Department should determine the funding necessary to remedy the short-term readiness crisis that already exists. Congress should appropriate these funds on an emergency basis. The bill will not be small, but the longer readiness is allowed to deteriorate, the more money will be required to restore it.”

“Congress and the President should repeal the Budget Control Act immediately and return as soon as possible to at least the funding baseline proposed in the Gates’ FY 2012 defense budget. That budget represents the last time the Department was permitted to engage in the standard process of analyzing threats, estimating needs and proposing a resource baseline that would permit it to carry out the national military strategy. The reductions since then have been imposed with no analysis of their impact on short or long-term readiness. We believe it highly likely, given the events of the last three years, that the Gates’ proposed fiscal 2012 baseline budget will not be adequate to prepare the Defense Department for the challenges ahead. But it is the minimum required to reverse course and set the military on a more stable footing.”


‐“In fact – and this bears emphasis – we believe that unless recommendations of the kind we make in this Report are adopted, the armed forces of the United States will in the near future be at high risk of not being able to accomplish the National Defense Strategy.”

The members of the panel represented a broad spectrum of views on defense and foreign policy.  There were the usual arguments over specific wording and programmatic recommendations, but the broad conclusions were easy to reach. In fact, they were obvious to anyone with eyes to see the rapid deterioration of our armed forces and the worsening global threats that became manifestly more dangerous even during the months the panel was deliberating.

As Madeleine Albright said recently, “to put it mildly, the world is a mess.”  She’s right.  Part of the reason is, beyond doubt, our rudderless  and sometimes unreal foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.  But the problem isn’t just an Administration that acts as if America is weak.  The problem is also that America is weak, and becoming weaker, relative to the threats posed by its adversaries – which is the only measurement of military power that really matters.  The world will get a lot messier until that changes.


Jim Talent, as a former U.S. senator from Missouri, chaired the Seapower Subcommittee. He is currently the chairman of the National Leadership Council at the Reagan Institute.


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