Pentagon proposes major cuts to U.S. military

The Defense Department announced a budget proposal last week that would shrink the U.S. military to pre-World War II numbers following more than a decade of conflict in the Middle East.

According to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the administration’s plan would reduce the Pentagon budget by $75 billion over the next two years. He also noted that the cuts could be larger if sequestration resurfaces in 2016.

The cuts would be most apparent in the Army, where the number of active soldiers could drop from 520,000 to 440,000. The administration also plans to eliminate its Ground Combat Vehicle program.

“An Army of this size is larger than required to meet the demands of our defense strategy,” Hagel said. “It is also larger than we can afford to modernize and keep ready.”

Other changes include a reduction of Marine Corps and National Guard forces, as well as additional base closings. The Air Force would also replace its 40-year-old A-10 fleet with the F-35 by the 2020s. The proposal comes after more than 10 years of war and nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hagel noted that this is the first time in 13 years he will present a budget to Congress without financing a war. Patrick Callahan, a political science professor at DePaul, said that this budget represents a shift in U.S. foreign policy.

The U.S. is unlikely to take on a major world power or involve itself in another instance of nation building in the future, both of which would require a larger military.

“Iraq and Afghanistan have pretty well killed off that kind of an agenda for the United States, and so we can get by with a much smaller, but still pretty substantial sized Army and Marine Corps,” he said.

This policy also in part represents the modernization of warfare, which is thinking that goes back to the Clinton administration, Callahan said. It further came to fruition during the Bush era, when then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld emphasized a need for the U.S. to reorient military operations away from putting large forces on the ground. However, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan squashed these attempts at change.

But now, that’s no longer the case.

Despite the reduction, Callahan said that this wouldn’t make the U.S. any weaker. The Navy will still be substantial, he said, and the government plans to maintain Special Forces for neutralizing terrorists and violent extremists. Plus, the Pentagon’s military budget would still be more than the other major countries’ put together.

“To the extent that having a substantial military was the basis for the United States being able to play a kind of leadership role in the world, we still will,” he said. Callahan also believes the current points of contention in America’s foreign policy wouldn’t require a large military if the conflicts boiled over.

A military attack in Iran would involve bombing operations without putting boots on the ground, he said, and Korean forces would be largely responsible for any fighting in the Korean Peninsula. Americans would have a limited involvement.

“We’ll have forces deployed around the world, but deployed primarily for purposes of maintaining a deterrence posture, kind of a trip wire, so that if something went wrong it would be well understood that American forces would get sucked into it,” he added.

Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chariman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will present the budget to Congress this week. Callahan said it will face obstacles going through the divided legislature, as with many other bills in Washington, and almost certainly won’t pass in its current form.

In particular, Callahan believes some Congresspeople will have an issue closing bases or halting weapons production that occurs in their respective states and districts.

However, Hagel, Dempsey and their colleagues firmly believe in the potential of these changes.

“It reflects in real terms how we’re reducing our cost and making sure the force is in the right balance,” Dempsey said.