Rebuttal of Bill Keller’s blatant lies

On November 14th, the extremely liberal NY Times (AKA the NY Slimes) newspaper published a litany of blatant lies written by Bill Keller. In it, Keller makes numerous false claims about defense spending, most of which I’ve heard a bazillion times already; claims which only reveal his utter ignorance of defense issues (or his propensity to lie, or both).

He claims, inter alia, that:

1) The US is responsible for over 40% of the world’s military spending and outspends the next 14 countries combined, without counting the DOE’s defense-related programs.

This is clearly false. The US does not outspend even the next 10 biggest spenders combined, let alone 14, as proven here using SIPRI and DOD numbers. Furthermore, while SIPRI says the US is responsible for 41% to 42% of the world’s military spending, they DO count the DOE’s defense-related programs (not that their annual cost, $17 bn, makes a big difference in the overall amount – it doesn’t), and they (like almost everyone else) significantly understate China’s and Russia’s military budgets. China’s FY2012 military budget is between $160 bn and $250 bn (per the DOD), not the mere $100 bn that China claims. And that doesn’t even account for the PPP differences between China and the US; if they are to be accounted for, China’s military budget should be multiplied by 3.

Therefore, if China’s military budget for FY2012 was $250 bn (the DOD’s high-end estimate), and if we assume that in China one dollar can buy 3 times more than in the US, China already outspends the US in military expenditures by $750 bn to $645 bn, i.e. by more than $100 bn, if PPP differences are accounted for.

But even if PPP differences are not accounted for, the next 10 top spenders combined (China, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Brazil, and Italy) outspend the US in military expenditures. Their respective military budgets this year arre as follows: $250 bn, $71.9 bn, $62.7 bn, $62.5 bn, $59.3, $48.2 bn, $46.8 bn, $46.7 bn, $35.4 bn, $34.5 bn (and that’s AFTER the deep cuts made in the British, German, and Italian defense budgets in recent years). The figure for China ($250 bn) is from the DOD (as cited here) and the figures for the other 9 countries come from SIPRI’s 2012 Yearbook for military spending, as cited by Wikipedia.

Together, these countries’ military budgets add up to $718 bn, far more than America’s military budget for FY2012 ($645 bn) or FY2011 ($688 bn).

In fact, the top 8 after-USA military spenders collectively outspend the US at $648.1 bn to America’s $645 bn.

2) He demands “making defense pay its share”.

But the DOD has already paid more than its fair share. Since 2009, it has already contributed $900 bn in deficit reduction, despite accounting for less than 17% of the total federal budget. No other federal agency has contributed anything meaningful to deficit reduction so far.

3) “Many experts I follow think that cuts below Panetta’s treshold [of $487 bn in cuts over the next decade] can be done safely.” But most of the experts he listens to are not experts at all, but rather, ignorant anti-defense hacks, and the “experts” and reports he cites all recommend deep, devastating defense budget cuts which would significantly weaken the US military beyond the damage that Leon Panetta’s cuts will do.

Three of the four reports he cited were Strategic Agility, produced by the leftist Stimson Center, the Simpson-Bowles report (authored by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles), and Hard Choices, written by David Barno (US Army, ret.), Nora Bensahel, and Travis Sharp of the CNAS. Both of these reports recommend deep, unacceptable defense cuts. Strategic Agility has been refuted here, and the CNAS report’s recommendations are essentially identical to the CNAS’s Sustainable Preeminence Report, which was refuted here. I have not yet reviewed the Third Way’s proposals, but given that it’s a leftist think-tank, they’re likely to be destructive as well.

What’s wrong with CNAS and the Stimson Center’s proposals? A lot.

For example, they both propose reckless cuts in America’s nuclear deterrent (especially Stimson, which even leaves open the possibility of doing them unilaterally and falsely claims that Russia is significantly below New START ceilings, which it isn’t); Stimson also supports cuts in the cruiser fleet and the F-35 program and dramatically understates the Russian and Chinese military threat; the CNAS, for its part, also proposes killing the V-22 Osprey and Ground Combat Vehicle programs, deeply cutting the F-35 program, cutting the carrier fleet and the number of carrier wings, and many other reckless defense cuts. You can read my rebuttals here and here.

Keller also falsely claims that “The bipartisan Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission recommended cuts in the same range” as the CNAS. This is also completely false. CNAS analyst David Barno told Keller (by Keller’s own admission) that he could live with cuts of $15 bn to $20 bn per year (and even that is Barno’s personal opinion, which is WRONG in this case). By contrast, the Simpson-Bowles report proposed defense cuts of $100 bn per year, i.e. five times deeper than those proposed by the CNAS.

4) “No new cosmic threat has arisen, much as hawks have tried to promote China, our biggest lender and one of our biggest trading partners, into that role.”

That is also a blatant lie. China IS a peer threat, as proven by my analysis and that of others (see e.g. here, here, and here). It has at least 1,800, and up to 3,000 nuclear warheads, and the means to deliver at least 1,200 of them immediately. It has hundreds of advanced fighters such as Flankers, J-10s, and JF-17s. It has an aircraft carrier and is testing fighters capable of operating from flattops. It is developing two different stealthy fighters. It has a very deadly air defense system and a huge and growing arsenal of missiles of all kinds – anti-ship and land attack cruise and ballistic missiles, air to air missiles, SAMs, and others. It has anti-satellite weapons and a huge cyber army of hackers who have penetrated the DOD and the White House military office. It has a very capable ground force with modern tanks, SPAAGs, APCs, artillery, and so forth. It has a large and very powerful Navy, which includes a carrier, 68 submarines, dozens of deadly surface combatants, hundreds of deadly patrol boats, and many other ships. China is already a peer-competitor and has already matched the US in terms of most military capabilities.

5) “In the absence of a budget bargain between Congress and the president, half of the automatic spending cuts that take effect in January will come from your domain — almost 10 percent applied evenly across all accounts.”

Wrong. The cuts will be exactly 10%; personnel spending and domestic bases (i.e. those in the US) are exempt from them, and the DOD will bear over 60% of the spending cuts burden under sequestration, not merely half, despite constituting less than 17% of total federal spending.

6) “So, then, what’s the alternative?”

The alternative is to balance the budget without making any further cuts in defense investments. The budget plans drafted by Chairman Paul Ryan, the Republican Study Committee, Sen. Toomey, and Sen. Lee all show how to do this. Cutting defense spending would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. It would not bring about any significant savings.

7) “With the cold war over, we can afford to slash nuclear arsenals without diminishing our deterrent.”

That is a blatant lie. No, America cannot afford to cut its nuclear arsenal any further. Doing so would undermine its nuclear deterrent, make deterring Russia and China difficult if not impossible, and cause America’s allies to doubt the US deterrent and to develop their own nuclear weapons, thus making the proliferation problem much worse.

The US nuclear arsenal is already vastly smaller than it was at the end (let alone the peak) of the Cold War: it consists of only 5,113 warheads, versus the over 12,000 it numbered in 1991. The US has only about 800 strategic launchers, versus the over 1600 it had in 1991, and New START permits America to have only 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, four times fewer than the 6,000 allowed by START-1 treaty signed in 1991.

But while the Cold War is over, the need for the nuclear deterrent has not diminished. If anything, it has grown. The nuclear deterrent is needed now more than ever. Russia has 1,492 deployed (and another 1,308 nondeployed) strategic warheads, 434 ICBMs, 13 SSBNs, over 100 strategic bombers, and untold thousands of tactical nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them (thus holding a huge advantage over the US in tactical nukes). China has at least 1,800, and up to 3,000, nuclear warheads and the means to deliver over 1,200 of them immediately. Then there are also North Korea and Iran to be deterred.

8) “Budget discipline might finally force the Defense Department to make strategic choices and systemic reforms that are worth doing on the merits.”

The DOD actually began doing this under Secretary Gates, before there was any Budget Control Act, and that discipline on the DOD has already tightened. The DOD has been requesting authorization for healthcare and retirement program reforms for years, under Secretaries Rumsfeld, Gates, and Panetta, only to be denied that authority by Congress each time. It also has requested authorization for BRAC, again, only to be denied.

Cuts as deep as $550 bn (whether by sequestration or in any other manner) would not just “impose budget discipline” on the DOD, it would dramamtically reduce the amount of resources available for personnel, training, operations, maintenance, and equipment, thus weakening the military. Cuts on this scale cannot be done solely through “efficiencies”, “strategic choices”, and “systemic reforms”; they would inevitably involve gutting the military with deep cuts in equipment, training, operations, maintenance, and/or personnel.

9) “Over the years, think tanks within the military and without have produced an immense, rich literature on how to make prudent sense out of austerity.”

Actually, the vast majority of the “prudent” proposals of these extragovernmental “think-tanks” and other organizations are imprudent, reckless proposals of massive, crippling defense cuts. I know, because I’ve reviewed many of them, including those of POGO, TCS, the NTU, PIRG, the SDTF, the CATO Institute, the PDA, the CNAS, the Stimson Center, and the Simpson-Bowles panel, and EVERY ONE of these “reports” proposed deep, crippling, unacceptable defense cuts (of various magnitudes of gravity, to be fair). Implementation of the recommendations of any of these groups would significantly weaken, and in the case of most of these groups, GUT the military (which, for most of these groups, is precisely their goal). You can see my rebuttals of their proposals here.

So no, the vast majority of their proposals are IMPRUDENT and RECKLESS.

10) “And after all, as Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, was fond of saying, “The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.””

That’s something he said only once (and was wrong when he said that). But most importantly, Keller is quoting Mullen very selectively, omitting those Mullen quotes which don’t jibe with his anti-defense agenda. Mullen has also said that America’s military spending, at 4.22%-4.5% of GDP, is “a bargain”, and during his retirement speech, he warned against deep defense budget cuts.

In short, Keller’s claims about defense spending, America’s nuclear deterrent, and China are all blatant lies, and they only reveal his utter, appalling ignorance of defense issues. The NY Slimes’ editors should be deeply ashamed of themselves for publishing his ridiculous screed.

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