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Return U.S. Military to Militia Model

Nov. 19, 2012 - 01:30PM   |  
By JOHN KING   |   Comments
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Bureaucracies don’t go down without a fight. The Pentagon is no different from any mature organization that becomes oversized, wasteful and often ineffective.

With no major power threat, no real threat to the American homeland and no military that can transit two major oceans without being detected and destroyed by the most powerful military in history, the Pentagon is in deep denial about what it really needs.

While Abraham Lincoln believed the military should have what it needs and no more, the Pentagon truly believes it can’t protect this nation without more money, more people and ever more expensive (and trouble-plagued) toys.

In stark contrast to what the Founding Fathers believed, who authorized an Army and Navy in the Constitution but initially refused to fund them for fear they would drag the nation into foreign adventures, bankrupting the nation via blood and treasure, we have moved away from the original militia (National Guard) model, to Dwight Eisenhower’s fear of a full military-industrial complex, with its need to sustain itself into perpetuity, backed by a powerful political constituency of tax-and-spend Democrats and borrow-and-spend Republicans, claiming an ever-growing share of the nation’s wealth and resources.

What’s needed is an independent citizens group to review the Pentagon’s budget one line at a time. The president promised but failed to do this himself so he would truly understand the amount of waste in his defense budget. Programs should be mapped out against the Quadrennial Defense Review strategy and validated against realistic assumptions about forces, threats, modernization and costs by those paying the bills instead of vested interests.

International partners must be included in this review, removing the U.S. flag from any box where those allies have the forces to protect themselves from whatever threat they believe exists. Japan, Taiwan, Germany (and Western Europe), Saudi Arabia, Australia and South Korea are all wealthy countries and should carry the full costs of defending themselves.

The Pentagon’s contribution to cutting back has so far been $487 billion in reductions in planned increases (not a real cut) over the next 10 years and the threat of an additional $500 billion in real cuts (from the current real budget) if sequestration kicks in Jan. 2.

I support a strong national defense and spent most of my professional career handling Navy and Pentagon research and development, procurement, operation and maintenance, construction, housing and war budgets. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, our forces were still far too large for the threats we faced even after a 33 percent cut.

Paying too much for an oversized military, we’ve added about $2 trillion to the national debt. Add another $1 trillion for two wars paid for with borrowed Chinese money, and you can see the Pentagon’s uncontrolled spending is a major part of the problem.

When it comes to risk assessment, the Pentagon would never make it as an insurance company. The “new” Pacific pivot strategy doesn’t really make sense. The loss of 58,000 American servicemen and women didn’t stop us from making Vietnam a key trading partner. So why are we fixated on China, our current main trading partner? If China is such as threat, don’t send the U.S. Navy, just boycott Wal-Mart.

Despite all our honored dead, our history is that we end up trading with our former enemies. If that’s the case, our foreign policy and national defense strategy need a serious overhaul.

Too important to leave to the generals, admirals and political appointees, under our Constitution, the citizens have the greater say, and I say this: To preserve our country from bankruptcy and further decline, it’s time to cut our military back to the militia model force structure the founding fathers envisioned.

Start with basics. We have 1.3 million men and women in the active forces, with another 860,000 in the National Guard and reserves. Two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq resulted in about 200,000 being deployed to the battle area. Including dwell time, we’d need three times that deployed force, or 600,000, to maintain a wartime operating tempo, with maybe 300,000 in all other supporting roles.

One third of that force should be National Guard and reserves, activated for three months a year to stay fully integrated and at the call, paying their employers for a temporary backfill. And definitely pay our military what they deserve. Cha-ching! $43 billion a year saved.

Resize everything else — weapon system research and development, procurement, bases, construction — to match that force structure, saving another $100 billion a year. We’d still have the most feared military in the world.

It’s time to stop deluding ourselves about real versus imaginary threats. Instead of supporting a new entitlement program, let’s put our well-trained, hard-charging military men and woman back to the mission of rebuilding America.


John King, a retired Pentagon budget analyst who managed $60 billion for hundreds of military programs and was a volunteer on the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform defense budget review team.

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