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 8:45 AM EDT, Sun July 13, 2014
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
updated 11:12 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
updated 9:20 AM EDT, Fri July 11, 2014
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
updated 2:41 PM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
updated 7:37 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
updated 8:01 AM EDT, Thu July 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
updated 5:07 PM EDT, Wed July 9, 2014
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
updated 8:08 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
updated 3:03 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
updated 6:37 PM EDT, Tue July 8, 2014
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT