Today is Reagan’s 100th birthday.
An often-asked question is “What would Reagan do?”
As America is struggling with $1.4 trillion annual budget deficits (and the deficit planned by Obama for FY2011 will raise the debt-to-GDP ratio to 100% if federal spending is not significantly reduced), the Congress and the nation are pondering what to do about defense spending – whether to reduce it or not. Many people, however, don’t ask whether to reduce defense spending, but how deeply to reduce it.
And what would Reagan do? Would he call for reductions of defense spending if he was alive today?
Because he’s no longer alive, it isn’t possible to say for 100% sure what he would do or say. But it is possible to say what he would probably do, on the basis of what he actually did or said while he was President.
When Ronald Reagan assumed office, the budget deficit was also big – it amounted to 6% of GDP! Nonetheless, Ronald Reagan chose NOT to reduce defense spending, as some people (e.g. William Kaufmann) called on him to do. He chose to increase it while shrinking domestic federal spending (e.g. by closing the Education Department and the DOE). He increased defense spending by 35%, from ca. $400 bn in FY1981 to ca. $554 bn in FY1985, and from 4.7% of GDP in FY1981 to 6.2% of GDP in FY1986. In fact, even during FY1981, Reagan and his Defense Secretary, the Honorable Caspar Weinberger, asked for and obtained a “supplemental” to the defense budget, because the defense budget devised by the Carter Administration was inadequate.
Dr Kim Holmes, Vice President of the Heritage Foundation, wrote in the WaTimes:
“On national defense, the lessons are clear. Reagan came to office after years of neglect of our armed forces and launched a military buildup that we live off to this day. He let the threats, not the bottom line, determine defense spending. He revived the B-1 bomber program that President Carter canceled and initiated many other defense programs. He famously told his military planners, “Defense is not a budget issue. You spend what you need.”And by the time he left office, he boosted defense spending 35 percent.
Please note that, folks. Reagan said, “Defense is not a budget issue. You spend what you need.” That is because America’s defense budget should be based on the real needs of the military, not on artificial budgetary restrictions imposed by the OMB. Of course, the military should not get more money than it really needs, but during Reagan’s time, it did not, and nowadays, it doesn’t, either. The FY2011 defense budget ($525 bn) is actually inadequate.
Reagan was willing to spend whatever was necessary on defense, but not a cent more.
His budget recommendations were based on what his Joint Chiefs told him, NOT on what pacifist politicians like Barney Frank claimed was the real requirement. Reagan accepted the expert advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff and his Secretary of Defense, although he did think independently.
Would Reagan endorse the defense cuts imposed by the Obama Administration and its mediocre Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who has never seen war)?
The answer is no. During the 1970s, Reagan saw crucial weapon programs cut or closed. When he became president, he reestablished them and started some new ones (e.g. the SDI). If he were alive today, he would’ve opposed the closures of the F-22, C-17, MKV, KEI, CSARX, NLOS, and European missile defense programs, and the cuts of the Airborne Laser, F-35, Ground Based Interceptor, and carrier replacement programs. He would’ve opposed Gates’ delays of the Next Generation Bomber program (de facto dictated by the OMB) and the ludicrous 2010 NPR and BMDR. He would’ve protested against the large force structure reductions conducted by the Bush and Obama Administrtions.
And what about the New START treaty? Would Reagan have signed it as it is now, or would he have rejected it?
Reagan called for a world without nuclear weapons, but in such a world, the US was to be protected by a vast missile defense network which would’ve negated the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal (not to mention the Chinese arsenal). This was the very goal of the SDI. The New START treaty not only calls for reductions of America’s nuclear arsenal and its arsenal of delivery systems down to inadequate levels, it also greatly restricts America’s missile defense. Moreover, even before the treaty was signed, Obama unilaterally gave up many missile defense programs, including the ABL, MKV, KEI, GBI and European missile defense programs (the latter was surrendered as a part of the price of Moscow’s signature of the treaty). Ronald Reagan must be spinning in his grave.
Reagan’s arms reduction treaty negotiators, including his chief negotiator General Ed Rowny, and many other former diplomats and Reagan Administration officials, including Ed Meese and Frank Gaffney, protested against this disastrous treaty.
So, what would Reagan do? He would’ve opposed reductions of defense spending. He would’ve opposed the Obama-dictated closures of crucial weapon programs. He would’ve opposed the New START treaty.
As the US celebrates Reagan’s 100th birthday, it is necessary to learn lessons from him and follow his guidance when determining America’s defense policies.