Pentagon Gears Up For Budget Cut War

Aug 17, 2011
Originally published on August 17, 2011 7:09 am
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.


NPR's Rachel Martin has more.

RACHEL MARTIN: Here's what Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said yesterday about that scenario, during an appearance on CNN.

S: If they go beyond that - this kind of massive cut across the board, which would literally double the number of cuts that we're confronting - that would have devastating effects. Very simply, it would result in hollowing out the force.

MARTIN: Notice that phrase: Hollowing out the force.

KORI SCHAKE: It's not neutral. It is something that is pejorative and intended to frighten listeners.

MARTIN: Kori Schake is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor at West Point. She says hollowing out the force was how the military described the deep defense cuts in the 1970s, after the Vietnam War.

SCHAKE: When the military was making a number of very important transitions to a volunteer force. And doing so at a time of great turmoil and very low spending, relative to what had been expected. And so you had cuts in capabilities and that's where the term hollow force comes from.

MARTIN: Now Secretary Panetta is reviving the old phrase. Panetta was brought in by President Obama to try to streamline the Pentagon budget, which has more than doubled since 9/11. But now the new secretary of Defense is drawing the line on how deep those cuts should go.

S: It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world.

MARTIN: Given all America's commitments around the world - Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya - not everyone thinks scaling back is such a bad thing.

ANDREW BACEVICH: The country is no longer in a position where it can economically afford to function, in effect, as a global policeman.

MARTIN: Kori Schake agrees that the budget cuts have to be about more than which weapons systems to cut and which to keep.

SCHAKE: You can't just say, well, the F22 will have to go. You have to say what kinds of wars will we not fight, if we do this.

MARTIN: Schake, who worked as a campaign advisor for Senator John McCain in 2008, says America needs to keep its military presence around the world strong. If it doesn't, how other countries perceive American power could start to change.

SCHAKE: At what point will other countries begin to believe that they can challenge America with impunity? Or the cuts that we are making will impose greater risks on allies that are already in tenuous circumstances, and those allies then make choices that we have a hard time living with.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.