How Much National Security Can We Afford?

Defense cuts kinda are and kinda aren’t on the table in Capitol Hill’s endless budget negotiations. But a new analysis from Cindy Williams, now at MIT but formerly the lead national security analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, says that over the long term, we need really big cuts. The paper is “The Future Affordability of
U.S. National Security” PDF) and the bottom line is:

Using CBO’s analyses of the overall federal budget as a starting point, I find that an affordable long-term level for national defense spending is between 1.6 percent and 2.6 percent of GDP. Within that band, the affordable level will depend upon whether taxes are permitted to rise and on how the cuts in federal spending are distributed among three broad categories: mandatory programs, nondefense discretionary accounts, and national defense. Assuming that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down a few years from now and are not replaced by new, expensive wars, that translates into cutting the non-war defense budget in real terms by four percent to 40 percent, relative to its 2011 level, within the coming decade.