Any serious effort to reduce federal spending and the national debt has to include reductions in military spending simply because, at a face value of more than $705 billion a year, it covers about 20 percent of the federal budget.
An unfolding controversy in Western Pennsylvania demonstrates how difficult it will be to cut defense, however, and calls for a comprehensive approach.
The Air Force wants to cut spending partially by reducing the force by 286 aircraft. It announced last week that it wants to relocate two C-130 transport planes from the 911th Airlift Wing, stationed at Pittsburgh International Airport, and mothball the remaining seven. Doing so, the Air Force said, would help phase out all of its aircraft of that C-130 variant and eliminate all maintenance costs for that variant.
The wing has 1,300 reservists and 300 full-time civilian employees.
Members of the state’s congressional delegation vowed to fight the move, which is exactly the reaction that would occur anywhere such a closing is proposed.
Clearly, defense cuts will have to be accompanied by a new version of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which in the past has compiled a comprehensive list that Congress must vote up or down without amendment.
Before that, however, the Pentagon, the administration and Congress need to address the issue of bases overseas. With the cold war now history, does the United States still need 80,000 troops in Europe, nearly 54,000 in highly secure Germany alone? Isn’t it safe, 66-plus years after the end of World War II, for Japan to assume more responsibility for its defense, thus reducing the number of U.S. troops there from 36,000?
The United States defense budget is larger than those of the next 17 nations combined. Even projected reductions would leave it larger than the next 10. Achieving cuts is not just a matter of dollars, but sense.