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
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery support the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1817 GMT (0217 HKT)
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1752 GMT (0152 HKT)
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1845 GMT (0245 HKT)
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 2323 GMT (0723 HKT)
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
April 15, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
ADVERTISEMENT