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Rebalancing Defense Spending

Interviewee: Todd Harrison, Fellow, Defense Budget Studies, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments
Interviewer: Greg Bruno, Staff Writer, CFR.org
April 13, 2009

The Obama administration has unveiled its much anticipated blueprint for overhauling U.S. defense spending. Now comes the hard part--selling the plan to Congress. Lawmakers are already gearing up for a fight, and some military experts warn the proposal could send the United States on a course of decreasing global dominance, a world where China and Russia gain an advantage. But Todd Harrison, fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, says the Pentagon's budget request--detailed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates on April 6--should be seen more as a rebalancing of priorities than a strategic overhaul. "Secretary Gates was making a lot of tough decisions here that have been put off for a while and cleaning up some loose ends that were left behind," Harrison says. "I don't think this announcement ... represents a shift in strategy so much as a rebalancing of defense spending to be more in line with our existing national defense strategy."

To that end, Harrison says the secretary hopes to prioritize the "irregular warfare part in the [Department of Defense]," while focusing more money and resources "on the wars that we're fighting today and the whole continuum of threats that are likely to emerge in the future." Harrison says the best example of this can been seen in Gates's calls to increase the number of special operations forces in the U.S. military; ramp up training for cyber security experts; and increase production of unmanned aerial vehicles for use in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Yet Harrison says the budget request also should be viewed as a work in progress. Additional clues to Pentagon priorities and direction will come later this spring, when the detailed budget is unveiled, and with the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which outlines U.S. strategic objectives and potential military threats. "Secretary Gates did say that this was not everything, he was just announcing some of the major decisions he has made," Harrison says.

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