Does Super Committee Failure Spell National Security Disaster?

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share in Email Print article
Written by Hanna Trudo, DC Correspondent

The Pentagon’s budget is about to take a major shot in the foot, thanks to the bipartisan super committee’s failure to strike a federal deficit reduction deal on time.

The back and forth has persisted for three months over measures that would cut the deficit by $1.2 trillion, $600 billion of which, over 10 years, would come from the already bleeding defense budget beginning in 2013.

Yesterday, the committee raised its white flag, showing the U.S. and countries that have a vested interest in American military might that the super committee can’t fight its way to a deal. It has, instead, returned the work (along with the dead weight of a publicly missed deadline) to Congress to pick up where it left off to bring the economy back on track.

Half of the $1.2 trillion will be cut from the military, nonetheless, in just over a year.

A budget battle lost – the start of a larger war?

This year, the U.S. defense budget was $549.1 billion, according to the Department of Defense, which does not include the high cost Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

And an expected $450 billon in military cuts were set in place – above the recent $600 billion setback – which brings the total to just over $1 trillion in defense slashes over the next decade. If the DOD thought $450 billion would be bad for U.S. defense, they are terrified what another $600 billion would do for already under-funded security mechanisms.

The expected cuts would mean the closing of factories that manufacture fighter planes, submarines and other essential military defense machinery, and widespread layoffs of thousands of people who are employed to engineer key weapons.

Though high paying U.S. jobs will inevitably diminish due to the deficit reduction’s losing battle, a significant concern of national security, and the implications that a wounded budget could have on the country’s ability to protect itself, raises concerns for troops, civilians and military experts alike.

Experts have not yet disclosed the specifics of what will be cut, and are likely to reserve the plans until 2013 when said reductions will take effect.

Until then, the 2012 elections, presidential and in the Senate and House of Representatives (who have argued less than amicably over fiscal matters in recent months), will play an important role in the treatment of the federal budget during the “gap year” before the military loses it’s proverbial monetary arm and leg.

No more money for Libya-like efforts?

The major reductions in cuts also raises questions about the likelihood of operating military initiatives – like the U.S. intervening in Libya – in the ensuing years.

The ability to assist in Arab Spring transitions may no longer be a feasible option if there is not sufficient money to fund various causes in the Middle East. If the U.S. were to get involved too deeply with Syrian efforts (like a near-impossible Libyan-style no fly zone), for example, such an endeavor, and its long-term ramifications, would undoubtedly be costly, and perhaps too expensive for a recently cut defense budget to endure. And as violence flares in Egypt once again, there may be no extra money for aid to keep the country on a steady path to democracy.

Additionally, natural disaster relief efforts, like the U.S. funding to help the 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan – with the deployment of some 20,000 troops, 140 aircraft and at least 20 ships since March 11, according to military officials – might be stifled.

Smart power efforts – deploying “soft power” initiatives such as trade, diplomacy, and on-the-ground development strategies alongside “hard power” military initiatives – have been considered by many security experts, including former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, to be the most cost-effective approach to national security. However, such as foreign aid and civilian development efforts, could be the first to land in the crosshairs due to the nature of Pentagon contracts for technology.

Costly defense technologies will not be spared, though, and many new developments could see scaling back or elimination, including a new generation of fighter jets and unmanned aerial drones that conduct surveillance or target enemies in place of boots on the ground.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlined in a letter to Congress some of the cuts that were being considered, including: space initiatives to return the U.S. to home-grown space exploration, saving $27 billion; the European network missile defense radars and interceptors – central to NATO defense priorities and protection against possible Iranian missiles – saving $2 billion; and part of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, including the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile fleet, saving $8 billion.

Secretary Panetta, who has used jarring rhetoric to describe the impact of the cuts (see “doomsday,” “hollow force,” and “paper tiger”), said in the letter that a decade of such cuts would result in “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.”

Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, and fellow Republican panel member, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, have already vowed to push through legislation preventing the cuts to the Pentagon’s from actually coming into effect.

The super committee’s failure to deliver a deal by its scheduled deadline means automatic cuts that leave little room for negotiations, but potentially enormous gaps in unemployment and U.S. issues of national security.