Gates' budget shakes up the Pentagon
By Daniel Luban and Ali Gharib
WASHINGTON - Secretary of Defense Robert Gates unveiled the United States'
much-anticipated new military budget on Monday, which aims to re-orient the
armed forces towards irregular and counter-insurgency warfare while proposing
cuts in several major weapons programs.
The budget is viewed as a major step in the ongoing debate within the US
military about whether to focus primarily on conventional warfare against other
states, or counter-insurgency operations against non-state actors.
But it is also likely to encounter opposition from lawmakers and
defense-industry interests who are unhappy about cutbacks in lucrative weapons
programs. The changes proposed by the new
budget - while significant - are far from marking a fundamental reshaping of
the US defense establishment, some defense analysts caution.
"They're calling it a fundamental shift and that's both true and false," said
Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. "It's
true because their budget proposes the most ambitious set of cuts to
well-entrenched weapons systems since the early 1990s.
"It's false, though, because this budget perpetuates the upward trajectory of
defense spending, it's higher than any of the [former president George W] Bush
budgets that preceded it, and it increases funding for some programs that I
think are a mistake," Pemberton continued.
The US$534 million budget for fiscal year 2010 - which does not take into
account the "emergency supplemental" appropriations that pay for the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan - marks a slight increase over the Bush administration's
budget for the previous year. However, the breakdown of this spending will be
considerably different from previous years.
"These past few years have revealed underlying flaws in the priorities,
cultural preferences and reward structures of America's defense establishment,"
Gates said. "There have been enough studies, enough hand-wringing, enough
rhetoric. Now is the time for action."
Among the most notable cutbacks was the F-22 fighter program. Gates announced
that the Pentagon would end production after buying four more fighters this
year. Rumors that Gates intended to kill the F-22 - which was originally
designed in the Cold War to counter Soviet air power - led to a lobbying
campaign on Capitol Hill and in the media to save the fighter. A
highly-publicized March article in the Atlantic by best-selling author Mark
Bowden, for example, warned that F-22 cutbacks would be "paid in the blood" of
US fighter pilots.
Other cutbacks include missile defense, which will see its budget reduced by
$1.4 billion, and the Army's Future Combat Systems modernization program - the
vehicle component of which will be canceled. However, the budget retained or
even accelerated other programs that were viewed as logical targets for cuts,
such as the F-35 joint strike fighter. F-35 purchases will be more than doubled
from 14 in 2009 to 30 in 2010.
"I would give the budget a B to B-minus," said William Hartung of the New
America Foundation. "They did a little less than half of what I'd hope they'd
do. But under Bush they would have done nothing or gone in the other
If the budget cuts back on some high-profile conventional war programs, it
compensates by dramatically increasing funding for some irregular operations
and counter-insurgency programs. Notably, Gates announced an additional $2
billion for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - including an
additional 50 Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial drones. The budget also
proposes a 5% expansion of special operations forces.
Defense analysts also caution that the budget is likely to face major
resistance in Congress from lawmakers whose districts benefit from defense
spending and who have been recipients of defense industry largesse.
"They are going to have a huge fight on their hands," Pemberton said. "Defense
secretaries have often tried to cut weapons systems to little avail, and this
is just the first stage in the process."
Already, Senators Jeff Session and Richard Shelby of Alabama have signaled
their displeasure with the budget by placing a hold on the nomination of Ashton
Carter, who was slated to become the administration's under secretary of
defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
The debate over the budget has divided many in the military into what are
sometimes called the "this-war" and "next-war" camps - that is, those focusing
on the needs of the current counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and
Afghanistan, and those focusing on the potential needs of a future conflict
against a state such as China.
Gates is widely considered to be one of the leaders of the "this-war" camp. On
Tuesday, he warned against devoting resources to "over-insure against remote or
diminishing risk[s]" or to "run up the score" in areas where the US is already
dominant at the expense of capabilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. But he also
argued that the new budget did not mark a radical shift from conventional
warfare, and that only about 10% of its spending would be devoted to irregular
"This is not about irregular warfare putting the conventional capabilities in
the shade," he said. "This is just a matter of giving the irregular-war
constituency a seat at the table for the first time."
At the moment, the "irregular-war constituency" appears to be ascendant in
Washington and at the Pentagon. Prominent counter-insurgency advocates include
General David Petraeus, now the head of US Central Command overseeing the Iraq
and Afghanistan wars, and Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the
influential think-tank Center for a New American Security.
But counter-insurgency also has its critics. Some - particularly on the right -
warn against focusing on non-state actors and neglecting conventional
capabilities and threats from state powers.
"[Former defense secretary Donald] Rumsfeld denigrated the human element of
warfare to focus on high-tech innovation," wrote Kori Schake, a Hoover
Institution fellow and West Point professor, on the Foreign Policy website.
"His successor is about to make the reverse mistake."
Others charge that counter-insurgency doctrine's emphasis on long-term
nation-building commitments is frequently used as a justification or
smokescreen for maintaining a long-term US imperial posture throughout the
"By calling for an army configured mostly to wage stability operations,
[counter-insurgency advocates are] effectively affirming the 'Long War' as the
organizing principle of post-9/11 national-security strategy, with US forces
called to bring light to those dark corners of the world where terrorists
flourish," wrote Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University professor and former army
colonel, in March.
"In this sense, Nagl's reform agenda, if implemented, will serve to validate -
and perpetuate - the course set by president Bush in the aftermath of 9/11."