Rebuttal of Charles Knight’s blatant lies

On the Battleland blog of the liberal Time magazine, Charles Knight, a co-President of the Massachusetts-based “Project on Defense Alternatives” (a liberal group advocating deep defense cuts) has written a litany of blatant lies regarding defense spending, while announcing that PDA will soon release a report calling for defense cuts even deeper than those that sequestration would make.

Knight falsely claims that:

“The prospect of this so-called sequestration, which would reduce defense spending by 10% from current levels, has inspired panic within the defense establishment and industry. Some defense and congressional leaders have called the prospect “draconian,” “devastating,” and even “catastrophic.” These public fulminations have helped shaped a growing consensus in Washington that the Budget Control Act must be amended or suspended to prevent sequestration.”

He falsely claims that sequestration would not be grave and would merely take defense spending back to its FY2007 level; he accuses members of Congress, DOD leaders, and defense industry leaders of engaging in “hyperbole”. This is clearly false; sequestration would actually cut defense spending in FY2013 down to $469 bn, a topline not seen since FY2005 (in inflation-adjusted terms).

Moreover, such could – setting defense spending back by 8 years – would, under sequestration, have to be made in just one FY. It would also result in many deep cuts to the force structure and key modernization programs, which means having to:

  • Cancel the F-35 program completely without replacement, and thus betray foreign program partners and give up air superiority
  • Eliminate the ICBM leg of the nuclear triad completely while cutting the bomber fleet by 2/3 and cancelling the bomber replacement program
  • Cancel the SSBN replacement program and cut the existing SSBN fleet
  • Cancel all but the most basic upgrades for F-15s and F-16s while cutting the fighter fleet by 35%
  • Cut the USN’s ship fleet below 230 vessels, the smallest size since 1915, and vastly inadequate (independent studies say the Navy needs 346 ships)
  • Cut the carrier and attack submarine fleets and the Virginia class construction rate
  • Forego the deployment of any missile defense system abroad
  • Cut the Army to its smallest size since 1940
  • Cancel virtually all Army modernization programs
  • Cut the Marines down to just 145,000 personnel
  • Cut personnel benefits programs to such depth that it would break faith with them (e.g. massive cuts in DOD health programs and retirement benefits), thus discouraging people from joining the military or reenlisting unless personnel spending is exempted; and to
  • Lay off, in total, 200,000 military personnel unless personnel spending is exempted.

This would be a disaster to put it mildly. More on sequestration’s impact here, here, here, and here.

And it’s not just “some defense leaders and industry executives” who have sounded the alarm on sequestration, it’s the entire civilian and uniformed leadership of the military as well as the vast majority of members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat. This includes all Joint Chiefs of Staff and other leaders of the US military.

As testified by Obama’s own SECDEF, as well as all Joint Chiefs, deputy service chiefs, lower-ranking generals, and other DOD officials, and as confirmed by many independent analysts and retired officers, sequestration would completely gut the military. For JCS Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, sequestration would produce “the definition of a hollow force”. For USMC LTG Richard Mills, “sequestration would break faith with those defending America.”

General Dempsey warns that if sequestration goes through and military personnel are exempted from it, he can cut only equipment, operations, and maintenance, and cut them big – and that, he says, would produce “the definition of a hollow force.”

The HASC has come to similar conclusions and also warns that most of the damage that would be done to defense would be irreversible. For example, if you cancel a shipbuilding program that a shipyard relies on, the shipyard will have to close and be liquidated and will not be there to reopen when you’re finally ready to start buying ships again.

With regards to sequestration, there are only three possibilities:

  • The Joint Chiefs and other generals are deliberately lying to scaremonger the public; or
  • The Joint Chiefs and other generals are ignorant folks who don’t know what they’re talking about; or
  • The Joint Chiefs and other generals are right to sound the alarm bell.

The claim that sequestration would be a 10% cut to the defense budget is untrue; it would actually be a 12% cut. Moreover, it would be coming on top of all the defense cuts already enacted and scheduled, including those mandated by the First Tier of the Budget Control Act, amounting to $487 bn over the next decade.

These cuts, together with the reduction and eventual disappearance of OCO funding when the Afghan war ends, will together amount to the deepest cuts in military spending since the post-Korean-war defense cuts of the 1950s.

The PDA, by its own admission, proposes to cut defense spending even further than sequestration would – to $455 bn – and keep it there in real terms, the only difference being that the PDA proposes to do it over 4 years rather than one. But the end result would be the same – a weak, gutted military unable to protect America, let alone its allies. (See above for the consequences of cuts of such magnitude.) The reality, which the PDA and other defense cutters continue to avoid, is that a $455 bn or $469 bn defense budget would be wholly and woefully inadequate to pay for the strong, large military that America needs. (See above.)

Their plan hasn’t been released yet, but what Knight has already revealed isn’t pretty. Military personnel would be cut further than it should be – from 1.4 mn to just 1.19 mn people, or by 19%, and combat units would be cut by 17% (which Knight calls “only 17%”), or nearly one fifth. That alone would significantly weaken the military: a smaller force will be able to go to fewer places, do fewer things, and will be a much weaker deterrent.

Knight decries the growth of base defense spending since 2001, but since then, it has grown by only 35% – a very modest growth rate, considering that it occurred over 11 years.

Knight deceptively claims that:

“As many families around the country tighten their belts and learn to live with smaller household budgets, they expect the Pentagon to do the same.”

But the DOD has already done so to a very large extent. Since has given up over 50 crucial weapon programs, begun to cut the US nuclear arsenal down to New START treaty ceilings, begun implementing Sec. Gates’s $178 bn Efficiencies Initiative, and begun implementing First Tier BCA-mandated defense cuts worth $487 bn. Those are real and deep cuts. Further significant cuts beyond that would significantly degrade the military’s ability to protect America.

Moreover, the DOD is so far the ONLY federal agency to make any significant savings in its budget. No other federal agency or program – discretionary or mandatory – has had to make any significant savings so far. Washington has been, and still is, trying to solve the deficit problem almost exclusively through defense cuts.

Furthermore, it is not completely true that “Americans have had to make tough choices” – only those who pay taxes and don’t live off government programs have had to. The dependency class – the people who don’t pay taxes on net but benefit hugely from government programs and giveaways (e.g. welfare programs and farm subsidies) – has not had to make any tough choices and has seen its benefits, and federal spending on them, significantly increase since Obama’s inauguration. And the Democrats cling to the sequester exactly to protect their lavish benefit while demanding that hard-working taxpaying Americans pay even more and that defense be cut even deeper to pay for the dependency class.

The PDA claims that it just wants to reduce defense costs and make America’s military “more sustainable and cost-effective”, and Knight claims that:

“The Reasonable Defense plan demonstrates how carefully conceived changes to the Pentagon budget can be consistent with economic recovery and also provide ample military capacity to protect America and our core commitments abroad.”

 “Charles Knight is the co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, a think tank which promotes consideration of a broad range of defense options and advocates resetting America’s defense posture along more sustainable, cost-effective lines. He can be contacted at”

But the truth is that their cuts would likely significantly weaken the US military and degrade its ability to defend America. Their proposal to cut combat units by a whopping 17% – nearly one fifth – is just a preview of what they’re likely to propose. Their assurances that their plan would still leave America with a military still able to defend America and fulfill its “core commitments abroad” are false and cannot be trusted.

I’m far too experienced to buy their promises that they just want to make America’s defense posture “more sustainable and more cost-effective.” Many pacifist, leftist groups and panels supporting deep defense cuts have hidden behind that mask/pretext, yet when it came to reviewing the details, each of them actually proposed deep cuts to needed military capabilities, equipment, and units, such as to the carrier, submarine, fighter, bomber, and ICBM fleets and their modernization programs. So I’ve heard the “we just want a more sustainable defense” excuse far too many times to be deceived by it.

And the defense budget (and America’s defense posture) is already very sustainable. The base defense budget amounts to a paltry 3.47% of America’s GDP and less than 14% of the total federal budget. The total military budget is just 4.22% of America’s GDP and less than 17% of the TFB (16.85%, to be exact). Even Todd Harrison of the CSBA says that it is sustainable and well within the modern trends of America’s national priorities.

Moreover, because the PDA has started with the false premise that defense spending needs to be cut, their “report” will produce a pre-determined outcome: a call for deep defense cuts (they’ve already said they want defense to be cut down to $455 bn in four years). A truly unbiased, impartial reviewer would NOT pre-assume that the defense budget should be cut (or raised); he would review it and only then make any conclusions. (This is what I’ve been doing for several years.)

For all of those reasons, their report should be rejected completely.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s