Where the Candidates Stand on Defense
With the political conventions, Veterans of Foreign Wars speeches, party and campaign platforms all now on the record, what can we conclude about the key question of the differences in defense strategy and spending between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney?
This is only one aspect of the foreign policy debate between the two candidates. But it is still hugely important - and about far more than a technical discussion over which fighter jet to buy or how many new ships to build. Indeed, the issue reveals a great deal about the worldviews of the candidates, and also links directly to their fiscal and therefore economic strategies - the top issue in this year’s race and itself a matter of national security.
In a nutshell, here is where President Obama and Governor Romney stand.
In Obama’s case, he wishes to cut the current size of U.S. ground forces back to almost where they were just before the September 11, 2001 attacks. He proposes saving almost $500 billion over the next decade on defense costs, relative to his own administration’s earlier plans of a year before (which means some $350 billion in cuts relative to where defense would go if allowed simply to increase with inflation). War costs would also continue to decline, but these are best viewed as a separate subject rather than a central matter of future defense planning.
The remaining Obama defense budget would in principle still fund an ambitious weapons modernization agenda, including up to 2,500 new fighter aircraft and perhaps nine new Navy ships a year. The president would protect most military pay and other compensation, too, (not to mention veterans’ benefits, which are in another part of the budget). He strongly opposes further cuts, including the additional $500 billion over a decade that would result from so-called sequestration, and does not agree with the Simpson-Bowles Commission on the feasibility of additional reductions of that magnitude, even if done through a mechanism other than sequestration.