President Obama on Wednesday announced $400 billion in defense cuts between now and 2023. But in reality, defense budgets have already been cut, are being cut now, and will be cut even further in the future. And it’s happening at the expense of national security.

He specifically referenced $400 billion in defense “savings” found to date by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates as the effort he’d like to copy and apply to deficit reduction. Of this money identified by Secretary Gates, only $100 billion is technically considered “savings” resulting from efficiency initiatives and reforms at the Pentagon. The remaining $300 billion in defense cuts the President would like to emulate resulted from significant cuts through the cancelation or delaying of over 50 major weapons programs.

Last year, the Obama administration, Secretary of Defense, and Congress began reshaping the U.S. military by changing the direction of defense investments and canceling programs with a total lifetime value of over $300 billion (if seen through completion). The list of defense cuts includes a combat search and rescue helicopter, the F-22 fifth generation fighter, the Army’s future combat systems (primarily a ground vehicle program), the multiple-kill vehicle for missile defense, a bomber for the Air Force, the VH-71 presidential helicopter, a transformational satellite program, and the second airborne laser aircraft. In addition, the Administration decided to extend the construction of an aircraft carrier by an extra year from four to five, reduce the number of ground-based midcourse defense interceptors from 44 to 30, and indefinitely delay the Navy’s next generation cruiser.

The current 2011 defense budget and next year’s defense budget aren’t being spared the axe, either. Some of the planned reductions include: ending production of the country’s only wide-bodied cargo aircraft, the C-17; terminating the EPX intelligence aircraft; permanently canceling the Navy’s cruiser; ending another satellite program; and killing the expeditionary fighting vehicle program for the Marine Corps. The Army’s surface-to-air missile program and its non-line-of-sight cannon are also on the block.

The President has finally acknowledged what has been happening for over two years now: defense budgets aren’t just “on the table” but massive defense cuts are already underway. Too many policymakers have been saying the nation needs to debate military spending cuts. This ignores the fact that defense budgets have already been cut, are being cut now, and will be cut even further in the future.

Additionally, military spending is already contributing significant sums to deficit reduction and, to make matters worse, defense capabilities are being eliminated during a time of war.

The world is not getting any safer as U.S. defense budgets are declining. The number, size, and scope of U.S. military missions is only growing as defense budgets are being reduced and as more massive cuts are planned for the future. The need to upgrade and replace the equipment inventory of all the services is not going away, and that bill will simply grow larger the longer policymakers defer modernization.

The military is a tool of U.S. foreign policy. Slashing defense spending without any changes–specifically reductions–in U.S. foreign policy commitments around the world is not only dangerous but more costly in the long run than maintaining stable defense budgets.

A review of roles and missions will not change U.S. foreign policy, only the President can do that. Starving the military as part of a deficit reduction plan may end up costing taxpayers more in the future if it makes the country less safe and increases the risk of another terrorist attack or the likelihood of drawing U.S. forces into yet another overseas mission.

The only responsible way to properly fund defense is to identify the nation’s vital national interests, ask what is required to defend the nation and those interests, determine what military capabilities are required to do so, and then build a defense budget to match the foreign and defense policies of the United States.

Identifying defense cuts and then trying to jam them under a strategy that remains unchanged means the U.S. military will do more, less well. In short, there are no defense cuts without consequences.