Assessing the QDR and 2011 Defense Budget

By Gordon Adams at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

The new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the fiscal year 2011 defense budget request have arrived. Unfortunately, they miss the mark: The QDR vastly expands the military’s missions, and the budget responds in kind by expanding for the fourteenth consecutive year.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued that the two documents were “shaped by a bracing dose of realism” with regard to risk and resources. I respectfully disagree. The QDR’s risk assessment piles on missions like a short-order cook stacks pancakes at IHOP, setting no priorities between near-term challenges and long-term requirements. And the budget continues to accommodate such a limitless agenda. The bottom line: This lack of discipline will broaden the country’s defense requirements and expand military spending in ways that will make establishing budget and mission discipline in the future even more difficult.

The lack of budget discipline deconstructed.

First, some context: The $708 billion defense budget request is higher than at any point in our post-World War II history. It is 16 percent higher than the 1952 Korean War budget peak and 36 percent higher than the 1968 Vietnam War budget peak (in constant dollars).

Gates argues that the budget plan “rebalances” spending by putting an emphasis on the near-term challenges of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and stabilization operations. Indeed, it does request funding for special forces, unmanned aerial vehicles, and other equipment useful in the prosecution of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the current budget plan makes no effort at prioritizing these near-term commitments against funding for longer-term commitments. Instead, it increases funding for both near-term and long-term programs and activities…

[continues at at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]