Skip to main content

Generals: Get real and cut Pentagon spending

By Robert G. Gard and John Johns, Special to CNN
updated 11:14 AM EST, Wed December 12, 2012
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
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Sat September 13, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
A Scottish vote for independence next week could trigger wave of separatist tension in Europe, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 6:12 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
You couldn't call him a "Bond villain" in the grand context of Dr. No or Auric Goldfinger. They were twisted visionaries of apocalypse whose ideas were to be played out at humanity's expense.
updated 1:05 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
As a Latina activist I was hurt to hear the President would delay executive action to keep undocumented immigrants with no criminal record from getting deported.
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:24 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Stevan Weine says the key is to stop young people from acquiring radicalized beliefs in the first place.
updated 1:30 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
US Currency is seen in this January 30, 2001 image. AFP PHOTO/Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Lisa Gilbert says a million people have asked the SEC to make corporations disclose political contributions.
updated 12:55 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Christi Paul says unless you've walked in an abused woman's shoes, don't judge her, help her get answers to the right questions: Why does he get to hit her? And why does nobody do anything to stop him?
updated 3:32 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says several other NFL players arrested recently in domestic violence are back on the field. Roger Goodell has shown he is clueless on abuse. He must go.
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
Newt Gingrich says President Obama has a remarkable opportunity Wednesday night to mobilize support for a coalition against ISIS.
updated 8:41 PM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Texas senator says Obama should seek congressional authorization for a major bombing campaign vs. ISIS.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT