Defense Strategy Needs More Money Than Trump Plans, Panel Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. national security funding must increase 3 to 5 percent a year to roll back a “full-blown national security crisis,” according to a commission created by Congress, challenging President Donald Trump’s plans for almost flat defense funding over the next five years.

“If the United States had to fight Russia in a Baltic contingency or China in a war over Taiwan, Americans could face a decisive military defeat,” the commission warned.

In a report released Wednesday, the bipartisan National Defense Strategy Commission cited damage it said was done by congressional caps on defense spending and the threat posed by a resurgent Russia and China after the U.S. military spent the last 17 years focused on fighting terrorist groups and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The commission was set up to analyze the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy released in January by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

While Trump has boasted that he’s rebuilding a military that was starved for funds, conflict is building over his administration’s plans to hold the national security budget at $700 billion, about a 2 percent decrease from the $716 billion in fiscal 2019 at a time of increasing federal deficits. The Office of Management and Budget had projected seeking $733 billion in fiscal 2020 before last month, when Trump ordered agencies to cut their planned spending.

Blaming Tax Cuts

Tax cuts pushed by Trump and his predecessors since 2001 “have decreased resources available to fund defense,” the commission said. In a sign of the budget pressures to come, the U.S. recorded a $100.5 billion budget deficit in October, an increase of about 60 percent from a year earlier as spending grew twice as fast as revenue.

The call to keep increasing defense spending reflects the hawkish make-up of the commission, whose members include Republican Senator Jon Kyl, a former Republican House Armed Services deputy staff director, a former chief of naval operations and a former Army chief of staff and two Obama-era Pentagon officials, including a comptroller.

The administration’s proposed Pentagon budgets for fiscal 2020 and beyond -- which are expected to be incorporated in a five-year plan issued in February -- “do not fund a level of military capacity and capability adequate to defeat” an “adversary should war occur while deterring other enemies simultaneously,” the commission said.

Democrat’s Doubts

With Democrats gaining control of the House in January, the report’s recommendations may be greeted with skepticism by Representative Adam Smith of Washington, who’s expected to be the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He’s expressed doubt about the need for more defense increases, including the administration’s extensive modernization of the nuclear triad, which the commission fully endorsed.

While the commission called the defense strategy “a broadly constructive document,” it said it was marred by “unclear concepts” and analytical shortcomings.

The commission criticized as “imprecise and unpersuasive” several of the defense strategy’s key tenets, such as a planning tool called the “Dynamic Force Employment model.” The Joint Chiefs use the model to guide the allocation of U.S. airlift and ships between Europe and the Pacific.

“Inadequate lift and tanker support, a lack of secure communications and insufficient capabilities and infrastructure are impeding strategic mobility” overseas, the panel said.

Similarly, the Mattis strategy cites the need to deter adversaries as a key objective, but “there was little consensus among the DoD leaders with whom we interacted on what deterrence means in practice,” the panel said.

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