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Pro-con: Does U.S. need to cut defense spending?

Defense cuts are not only on the table; they will almost certainly be part of any budget deal. Defense Secretary Robert Gates helpfully opened the door when he highlighted the need for savings, and now defense has become one of the areas of the budget with the strongest potential for a coalition of strange bedfellows, ranging from policymakers on the far left to the far right, all favoring cuts. Defense cuts need not compromise security, which must take precedence over budgetary savings. But savings from ending unnecessary weapons systems and reforming the generous and costly military health care system, Tricare, in which participant costs have not gone up at all for 15 years, clearly need to be addressed. All told, savings in the high tens of billions a year should be a minimum goal, and savings of more than $100 billion each year are in the realm of the possible later this decade. Finally, this is the first time we have engaged in a prolonged war without any tax increases to pay for it. If operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, we should consider a war surtax and spending cuts in other areas of the budget to pay for the wars rather than borrowing the funds and adding to the massive national debt. — Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

Cutting U.S. defense spending would put the nation and the current global order at grave risk. International stability and American security are threatened by dangerous contingencies that are becoming increasingly likely. Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons would be a world-changing event. The persistence of Islamist militant groups in Pakistan threatens stability on the subcontinent and security throughout the West. Militant Islamist sanctuaries are expanding in Somalia, Yemen, and equatorial Africa. Security and stability in Iraq remain fragile. The war in Afghanistan is at its height. This list of current conflicts and threats excludes the kinds of potential future threats for which the U.S. military must also be prepared, including conflict with China, serious challenges to the U.S. satellite constellation, the continued proliferation of long-range missile and nuclear technology, cyber-conflict and many others. There is no basis either in the present global security situation or in trends looking forward to suggest that the requirements for the U.S. military will diminish significantly. Cutting defense, therefore, can be justified only on the grounds that there are greater priorities than safeguarding the nation from visible threats. — Frederick W. Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute and Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War