Armed Services Struggle Under Cuts: Defense Review Doesn’t Provide Solutions

Sarah Wallace /

John Albright/Icon SMI/Newscom

John Albright/Icon SMI/Newscom

The recent Strategic Choices Management Review (SCMR) issued by the Department of Defense makes some alarming predictions about future readiness, such as the possibility of the U.S. Army losing 70,000 to 100,000 active-duty soldiers under sequestration. This indicates a set of 15–20 percent reductions on top of previously projected cuts at 15 percent. The result will be an Army smaller than that under the Clinton Administration during the misguided “peace dividend.”

The SCMR proposes ways to implement budget reductions required by the Budget Control Act, including sequestration. These reductions, however, are being labeled “too high” and “too late” by leading policy organizations such as The Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution.

This is just one example of the drastic ways the military will be cutting its forces under budget shortfalls. There is much discussion over where the military turns after the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are ended, whether the Asia–Pacific pivot is more than just rhetoric, and how the U.S. will continue to maintain presence throughout the world. But Brookings’s Michael O’Hanlon argues that “latching onto some strategic fad to justify radical cuts in the U.S. Army or Marine Corps is no way to run a military.”

Regardless of how they are applied, cuts will reduce readiness and capability of the U.S. Armed Forces. The SCMR offers three options for potential budget scenarios, none of which provides effective options for aligning the defense budget within sequestration. The options for reductions within the Department of Defense create a false choice between modernization and force structure. Congress should address the primary debt drivers—entitlement programs—before risking the national security of U.S. citizens by tying the hands of the U.S. military through such cuts. A strategic evaluation is needed to ensure that reductions are made in the proper places, and the SCMR does not suffice.

According to Heritage, “Congress and the Administration should act to avert a hollow force, but they should act in a fiscally responsible manner that reduces the burden of federal spending on the economy.” It is their constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense.