Downsized military: Hagel’s budget is right for postwar America

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The $496 billion military budget presented Monday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is a reasonable first step toward rearranging America’s priorities after the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

Not surprisingly, the spending plan, which is $75 billion less than the previous budget, has already provoked screeching from members of Congress who are inclined to see defense spending as pork and who are objecting to the financial impact on their districts. Some also smell another opportunity to attack President Barack Obama, this time by charging him with weakening America’s defenses.

That last argument is lame since the nation’s military power will be maintained through sufficient forces around the globe, advanced weapons systems and technological dominance. Plus, any dollars diverted to domestic needs will strengthen America at home by improving education and health care and rebuilding infrastructure. That, too, helps the country defend itself.

Inherent in the budget’s policy is a call for replacing old and obsolete weapons with new systems and forces appropriate to the future. The size of U.S. Army personnel, for instance, would be cut from 522,000 to 450,000. The A-10 Warthog aircraft, a weapon that dates from the 1970s, would be eliminated, saving $3.5 billion. The U-2 surveillance aircraft would be replaced by Global Hawk drones. Unnecessary bases and commissaries would close. Pentagon planning would assume an America able to fight one large overseas war while maintaining its capacity to defend the homeland.

New emphasis would be placed on improving the ability to wage cyber-war, both offensively and defensively. U.S. capacities in this regard must stay ahead of any enemy’s, although care will need to be taken not to provoke attacks on the United States because of its cyber activities.

Although the price tag on the package will be hotly debated, Mr. Hagel’s reduced budget proposal is in the ballpark with cuts required by the 2011 Budget Control Act. Even so, it is hard to predict whether the Obama administration plan will face more cuts or new additions by the time it emerges from Congress.

In any case, the downward direction of military size and spending, reflecting a normal postwar reduction of forces and equipment, is the correct course for the United States.

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