Our guest blogger is Kelsey Hartigan, nonproliferation and defense policy analyst at the National Security Network.
Next week, Secretary Panetta will preview the Defense Department’s roles and missions review, which President Obama ordered earlier this year as the debate over defense spending ramped up. Panetta’s testimony will come on the heels of the ten-year point for the war in Afghanistan — which serves as a clear indicator of how and where strategy interacts with spending.
In the last 10 years, the Army and the Marine Corps added 118,500 troops to their ranks as the U.S. pursued occupation and counterinsurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this same time frame, the defense budget has more than doubled. As lawmakers look for savings within the defense budget, they must also reevaluate our national security priorities, the way America conducts its business in the world and the role the military plays in accomplishing those objectives.
This should begin with a shift to a counterterrorist mission in Afghanistan and elsewhere and an effort to rebalance the number of U.S. ground troops.
In a report released yesterday by the National Security Network, Major General Paul Eaton, USA (Ret.) and I recommend reducing ground forces to 2001 levels, resulting in an end strength of approximately 480,000 for the Army and 173,000 for the Marine Corps, provided that deployment guidelines are honored. We write:
Over the past decade, we have seen an expansion of military mission sets and capabilities that goes far beyond what political and military leaders now expect our armed forces to do in the years ahead. Ground forces, in particular, have grown in number and scope as the U.S. pursued a counterinsurgency doctrine that demanded troop-intensive operations simultaneously in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Few would challenge — and the National Security Strategy of the United States supports — the assertion of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates that, “The United States is unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan or Iraq anytime soon — that is, forced regime change followed by nation building under fire.”
Maintaining the size of ground forces demanded by those operations appears unnecessary. Moreover, America’s success in combating terrorism through smaller, more targeted operations — including the one that culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden — shows that there are other more effective tools at our disposal.
Earlier this week, Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.), Nora Bensahel and Travis Sharp of the Center for a New American Security also recommended reducing the number of active-duty ground forces to similar levels.
In today’s fiscal environment, we must utilize all elements of our national power — our political, economic and military might. Over the past decade, we’ve relied disproportionately on our military. Now is the time to realign our defense strategy and gear the budget toward 21st century challenges, not extended troop-intensive operations.