Trimming The Fat

There was an interesting debate on the letters page of the New York Times Sunday Review section. The ongoing gridlock in the congressional debt panel has opened the door for all sorts of suggestions on where to cut money from the Pentagon’s budget. It all began with a letter from Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and went from there. Interestingly, there wasn’t a single letter published that argues for either maintaining or increasing current spending levels. People know a raw deal when they see one.

From Korb’s letter:


Since we are unlikely to use nuclear weapons, our arsenal can be slashed from the current level of 5,000 to 311, as recommended by some Air Force strategists. Since we are withdrawing troops from the Middle East and are unlikely to need large armies there anytime soon, the size of our ground forces can be cut back by 100,000 to pre-9/11 levels. Since the cold war ended 20 years ago, the 80,000 troops still in Europe can be reduced to 20,000. Since the military increasingly relies on unmanned planes and precision guided munitions, the number of carriers and Air Force fighters can be reduced by 25 percent.

Since the defense budget has grown by more than 50 percent over the past 10 years, it can easily absorb a 15 percent reduction — which would be about half the defense cuts of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon and less than that of George H. W. Bush.

Readers thought Korb didn’t go far enough. Here are some of the more choice suggestions:


National missile defense doesn’t work, but it is one of the most expensive procurement items in the budget.

— Melvin A. Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy

Don’t build a new fleet of nuclear submarines. Savings: $125 billion. Don’t overhaul old nuclear weapons; go below 1,000 in total. Savings: $65 billion to $80 billion. Reduce ballistic missile submarines and cut ICBMs to 300. Savings: $79 billion to $100 billion.

— Edward A. Aguilar, founding executive and program coordinator of Project for Nuclear Awareness

Shifting our nation’s research priorities back to basic science would increase economic activity toward more positive civic goals that do not depend on sustaining military conflicts.

— Michael Peirce, former professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado

Out of all these suggestions, the one from Mr. Peirce is the most noble and the most necessary. This country has been in the grip of the military-industrial complex since World War II. President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of devoting so much of our intellectual capital to the machine of war rather than making the world a better place. We have been reaping this harvest ever since. Cutting the military’s budget is hard. They hang on to their funds as tightly as they can, dangling the prospect of defense industry layoffs over Congressmen’s heads to keep the money flowing. But actually shifting the money away from defense spending to less lethal pursuits? There is no precedent, despite it being so obviously the right thing to do.

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