Skip to main content

Generals: Get real and cut Pentagon spending

By Robert G. Gard and John Johns, Special to CNN
December 12, 2012 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
A model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is on display at an airshow in 2004. The writers say it's outmoded and hugely expensive.
A model of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is on display at an airshow in 2004. The writers say it's outmoded and hugely expensive.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writers: Pentagon spending is based on strategies from old ideology and driven by lobbyists
  • Generals: Strategy must be based on today's and future threats, not Cold War doctrines
  • Writers: Unnecessary F-35 strike fighter costs more than money spent on vets in 20 years
  • Writers: Instead of building expensive new toys to keep in the garage, let's rethink priorities

Editor's note: Lt. Gen. Robert Gard is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former executive assistant to two secretaries of defense. Brig. Gen. John Johns is a former director of human resources development for the Army General Staff. He taught at the U.S. Military Academy and lectured at the Air War College, the Army War College, the U.S. Military Academy, and the Naval Academy. He serves on the board of advisers for the Council for a Livable World.

(CNN) -- A strong U.S. military is indispensable to our national security. As retired military officers, we have dedicated our careers, on active duty and retired, to that end. We have been involved in crafting and teaching national security strategy, of which military strategy and use of military force are vital components.

In the debate over the Pentagon budget and with threats of deeper cuts coming, the president, Congress, governors and the entire defense community are rightly concerned about sequestration, which cuts both domestic and defense spending indiscriminately. It is agreed that overall spending reductions are necessary, but the "fiscal cliff" crisis reflects a lack of political will, not rational planning.

Too often, the Pentagon spending debate is ensnared in the outmoded ideology of past wars and driven by legions of lobbyists for parochial interests in the military-industrial complex.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger attend an event about the Cold War in April. The writers say the U.S nuclear program is based on yesteryear\'s Cold War ideology.
Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger attend an event about the Cold War in April. The writers say the U.S nuclear program is based on yesteryear's Cold War ideology.

America's power is more than a massive force structure and numbers of ships, tanks and planes. A national security strategy must be based on current and future threats, not past war doctrines.

In 2008, a National Intelligence Estimate declared the economic crisis, not terrorism, as the greatest threat to national security. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullin, along with other senior military leaders, endorsed that assessment.

Zakaria: Will we get big fiscal deal, or small?

It is doubtful that future threats will call for many of the expensive weapon systems advocated by parochial interests and some political leaders -- a system such as the F-35 joint strike fighter. Developing this plane has cost more than was spent on veterans in the last 20 years.

Lt. Gen. Robert Gard
Lt. Gen. Robert Gard
Brig. Gen. John Johns
Brig. Gen. John Johns

Today, the use of manned aircraft is more and more limited. Our leaders must have a serious debate about priorities: America needs political resolve to kill unnecessary and expensive projects.

Our nuclear weapons policy is based on Cold War conditions that no longer exist. The Pentagon is expected to spend more than $700 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, for little added security. The former U.S. Strategic Command Chief Gen. James Cartwright has called for a drastic cut in nuclear weapons, saying the U.S. has a stockpile "beyond our needs. What is it we're really trying to deter? Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century." The program is based more on ideology than security.

Sadly, defense spending is driven by political interests, not necessity. In his 1986 book "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers," Paul Kennedy argues that great powers fall by bankrupting themselves to rule extensive empires. After the invasion of Iraq, Kennedy published an op-ed, "Perils of Empire," suggesting America may furnish material for another chapter.

Sen. Rand Paul: Cut military spending
Hear 'horses, bayonets' quip

In the last decade, America fought two expensive wars and Congress has yet to pay for them; that policy has contributed to our precarious economic position. Sequestration is not an effective means of excising wasteful Pentagon spending; it is the result of political gridlock and special interest intransigence.

As Congress attempts to undo its own mess and prevent sequestration, the Pentagon budget needs to be on the table. Reducing wasteful spending on unneeded programs and outdated strategy will save money and enhance national security.

The political argument that cutting defense spending will cost jobs is spurious. Pentagon spending purchases one item and does not provide greater economic benefits. The F-35 program is slated to cost $1.5 trillion over its lifetime; these are resources that are desperately needed elsewhere or could pay down the national debt.

After more than a decade of wars of dubious value, America will receive a greater return on investment by investing in our troops and veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Every dollar wasted on unnecessary programs could be caring for and training our servicemen and women.

Instead of building new toys that are kept in the garage, let's provide education and job training to veterans. Recent congressional refusal to approve such a jobs program is a disgrace.

Cutting Pentagon spending recognizes that national security is more than military power. The United States is stronger with a strong economy, sustainable jobs, investment in education, renewal of our infrastructure and a sensible energy strategy. Continuing to waste money when our nation should have other priorities is bad policy and bad for security.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
December 26, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT