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Defense Budget Tug-of-War

Author: Frank G. Klotz, Senior Fellow for Strategic Studies and Arms Control
March 27, 2012
National Interest


A well-known military adage wryly notes that no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. The same could be said of proposed defense budgets. Though in this case, it's not an opposing army that usually threatens to undo an administration's best-laid plans but rather the United States Congress. As frustrating as it may be for Pentagon officials, that's the way the authors of the Constitution intended it to work. But in an election year, with intense partisan debate over spending and revenue, the possibility of a total stalemate on the defense budget looms very large. With American forces still fighting in Afghanistan, and with Iran and North Korea remaining potential flash-points, the consequences could be grave.

Over the past several weeks, the Obama administration has rolled out both a new defense strategy and a proposed defense budget for the coming fiscal year. The two are inextricably linked. After all, a strategy is only so much ink on paper without the resources required to implement it. And resources right now are tight. In crafting its budget proposal, the Pentagon had to grapple with a nearly half-a-trillion dollar cut in projected spending over the next decade. Some very difficult trade-offs had to be made. According to senior Defense officials, the resulting proposal represents a carefully constructed, integral package. They have thus urged legislators not to "cherry pick" those parts of the budget they'll support and those they'll reject.

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