August 1, 2011  

Critical cuts

TO DEFENSE SECRETARY ROBERT GATES for his latest defense reforms, an adept attempt to get ahead of the debt-crisis curve. In his plan to cut $78 billion over the next five years, Gates managed to balance the economic needs of the country — a national security priority in itself — with those of the armed forces at war.

By striking a deal with the services which allowed them to identify more than $70 billion cuts in overhead and program costs in return for them getting the money saved for high-priority capabilities, the SecDef made the process inclusive and demonstrated that responsible housekeeping can provide dividends. The go-ahead for a new long-range bomber for the Air Force is particularly noteworthy.

Given the potentially dire consequences of the U.S. debt crisis, the Pentagon should steel itself for more cuts because defense spending will increasingly be viewed as the largest discretionary budget as must-pay bills such as national-debt interest payments, Medicare and Social Security soar. It therefore is critical that the Pentagon moves now to make astute choices about what can be sliced and what must be preserved before less-informed decisions are thrust upon it. Gates’ reform plan will help the services maintain control of their destiny.