Strategic Thinking Key to Managing Budget Reductions

posted by BGen Stephen A. Cheney USMC (Ret.) on March 5, 2013 at 2:20 pm

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As military leaders work to adapt to fiscal constraints while maintaining readiness, flexibility in the budgeting process is key, General James Mattis said in a congressional hearing today.

Gen. Mattis, in his always pragmatic way, is spot on. The ability to shift funds allows crucial military programs to continue, reducing risk for the military services and for our country.

With a national debt of over $16 trillion, reining in government spending is an important step in restoring our nation’s economy. The Pentagon budget, which has almost doubled since 2001, cannot be exempt. But indiscriminate cuts are not the answer.

Across-the-board budget reductions will impact every aspect of our national security, from current military operations to future readiness to our troops at home and in the field. Focusing on short-term budget numbers without a long-term strategy will harm our economic competitiveness.

We can reduce Pentagon spending while maintaining a strong national defense, but it will require strategic thinking. The upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review is the perfect opportunity to conduct an in-depth reassessment of our security strategy.

Previous QDRs failed to set priorities among military missions. The result is what we see today: overinvestment in capabilities and missions that are not vital to our national security interests.

This QDR process should be an opportunity for military leaders to articulate the U.S. role in the world – who we are and what we are trying to do. This should reflect that U.S. power and influence means much more than military superiority – it means ensuring our economic competitiveness, maintaining our leadership in scientific research and innovation, and investing in diplomacy.

Developing a sound strategy means figuring out how to do less with less. An efficient and effective strategy will strengthen national security by allowing us to eliminate unnecessary capabilities, like excess nuclear weapons, and invest instead in tools that address 21st century challenges, like climate change and cyberwar.

There is room to cut the Pentagon budget without putting national security at risk. In fact, reductions will strengthen our national security, if done in a strategic way. Unfortunately, strategic thinking is completely absent from the sequester debacle. Policymakers need to act now to address this.

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