Rep. Barbara Lee Rep. Barbara Lee Lee: National Strength Tied to Economic Strength
Thursday, 26 January 2012 00:00

Lee: National Strength Tied to Economic Strength

Written by  Rep Barbara Lee
Lee: National Strength Tied to Economic Strength  Photo by Luke Thomas

“Today the Pentagon previewed a plan to reduce military spending by $6 billion in the 2013 budget request.  I am optimistic that current efforts to address runaway defense spending are headed in the right direction.

However, even today’s Pentagon budget proposals would maintain unsustainably high defense spending.  As the White House finalizes details, I strongly urge substantial reduction in military spending. 

“The American public is well ahead of Washington in recognizing the need to incorporate defense cuts into any meaningful effort to reduce the deficit.  If we took the level of cuts required by sequestration, which could include $500 billion in defense spending reductions over 10 years, we would still be at the same level of spending as in 2007.  We need to balance our defense spending with the rest of our national priorities and invest in national economic prosperity and peace.  Now more than ever, we must invest in job creation.  As we adjust our military force structure going forward, we must ensure that our returning service members and veterans have access to the American Dream for which they have sacrificed so much. 

“Yesterday, I was joined by Representatives Barney Frank, Lynn C. Woolsey, and Rush D. Holt in sending a letter to President Obama urging him to consider a substantial reduction in military spending so that our nation can truly address our short and long-term debt challenges.”


January 25, 2012

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to you again to restate our strong belief that a fundamental rethinking of our national security strategy and current overseas commitments, leading to a substantial reduction in military spending, is essential if our nation is going to meaningfully address its serious short-term and long-term fiscal difficulties.  In this regard, we have been studying with great interest your announcement at the Pentagon on January 5, 2012 of a new national defense strategy; along with the accompanying release of the Defense Guidance (DG) paper Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense

We congratulate you on the leadership that you are showing on this vital issue.   We appreciate your recognition of the fact that ensuring our enduring security and global leadership involves both protecting our nation’s vital security interests through superior military capability and at the same time getting our fiscal house in order to foster national and global economic prosperity and peace.  You also acknowledge that given the large share of discretionary spending currently going to the Department of Defense (currently 56%), we have no choice but to make fundamental adjustments so that our military can continue to protect us as effectively as it does while spending less money.   Finally, you also recognize the need to tailor our military strategy to the particular nature of the threats the United States is facing in the 21st Century.  

The new DG paper reflects many admirable steps in this direction.  In particular, we applaud the statement that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations,” since we are opposed to a defense posture which creates incentives for unnecessary undertakings such as the Iraq War, or for the extraordinarily expensive and ongoing efforts at stabilizing Afghanistan, a nation where we fought a war that was initially supported by most Americans but in which further American military action is related neither to the initial aims of the war nor to present vital U.S. security concerns.  

We also applaud your moves to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Europe, a vestige of the Cold War which results in the United States bearing the burden of the primary military protector for our European allies, even though the Cold War has been over twenty years and Europe is under no threat from any other country that necessitates American protection or deterrence. 

In fact, we believe that the current overextension of United States forces overseas, and tremendous military advantage the United States holds over other countries – as you point out, we spend more on defense than the next ten nations combined – allows us to make much more substantial spending reductions than the $480 billion in cuts over ten years that you are proposing.  There are several additional areas where the United States can realize much greater savings without compromising our security.   

To begin, withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan this year rather than in 2014 will save hundreds of billions of dollars.  The difference in the capability of Afghan security forces this year rather than 2014 is minimal, and in any case the stability of Afghanistan is ultimately the responsibility of the Afghans, and is not an area in which the U.S. has a vital military interest, given that our goals of defeating and dismantling Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and removing the government that was supporting and providing a base for their operations has been realized.

We also believe that additional but responsible reductions in the active duty force are both possible and desirable, provided that you and the Congress work together to ensure that our nation makes the education and reemployment of separated servicemembers a genuine national priority.  The pullout of the last American troops from Iraq and the plans for a pullout from Afghanistan will end the two enormous tasks that our troops have undertaken in the past decade, a decade which saw military spending and the size of our military rise dramatically.  As at the end of prior conflicts, this should be accompanied by an appropriate reductions in spending and in force end-strength through natural attrition, elimination of the stop-loss policy, and downward adjustments in recruiting targets.

In addition, your plans to reduce forces in Europe by one combat brigade should be just a first step.  Europeans can and should bear primary responsibility for their own military security and take a much stronger role in NATO operations, and this will only happen if U.S. makes clear it wishes to only keep a minimal force in Europe.  Some of our troops in Asia as well, particularly our Marines in Okinawa, are stationed on bases with no well-thought out purpose, at considerable cost both in funding and in causing enmity with our Japanese ally.  While we should continue to offer protection to South Korea and enforce its cease-fire with its unstable and hostile northern neighbor, and we understand your overall emphasis on Asian security, particular South Asia with its proximity to the Persian Gulf and oil-shipping, we see no reason for any expansion into Australia. 

Ending our military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, no longer assuming primary responsibility for European military security, and avoiding unnecessary new commitments and large-scale stability operations in the future will allow us to reduce our 1.5 million member active-duty military by much more than the roughly 100,000 troops you have stated is your goal.

We strongly agree with you that nuclear deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force.  The ratification of the START II Treaty shows that both the United States and Russia have a strong mutual interest in reducing arsenals, and we should be implementing this agreement and making plans for further negotiated reductions rather than pursuing new and expensive nuclear weapons modernization and anti-missile defense initiatives.  Spending billion on new weapons systems is completely unnecessary, and indeed the question of whether our nuclear “triad” of land, sea and air delivery systems is necessary or can be done just as effectively and much more cheaply with two systems needs to be studied seriously at the highest levels.

We want a military force that remains second-to-none, and is strong, adaptable and geared towards present-day threats, while at the same time grounded in present realities.  These include the fact that the Cold War is long over and no remotely comparable adversary has emerged or is likely to emerge; our allies ought to play a much greater role in their own defense and in helping us militarily to ensure global stability; and long-term and large-scale stability and counter-insurgency operations in other nations should not be pursued going forward.  All of these factors together give us the opportunity to reduce military spending substantially without compromising our security.  We believe that savings in the vicinity of around $900 billion over ten years can be realized, and we will be working to build support in Congress this year for cuts along these lines, during the appropriations process and during the coming debate on sequestration.  We ask you to take even bolder leadership on this issue as you finalize your budget and develop your specific proposals by proposing and supporting more substantial cuts appropriate to our present conditions and to the vision of national security that you have presented in the Defense Guidance paper.

Our national strength is inextricably tied to our economic strength.  It is time to bring our defense spending in line with the actual threats we face, and invest the savings in nation building at home.



Barney Frank, Member of Congress

Rush D. Holt, Member of Congress

Barbara Lee, Member of Congress

Lynn C. Woolsey, Member of Congress

Read 4266 times Last modified on Friday, 27 January 2012 13:49

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