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Lawrence Korb: No Matter How Much You Spend, You Can’t Buy Security

Mike Klein

Americans – you and me — spend lots of money to maintain the most lethal military machine in world history.  “No matter how much you spend on defense, you can’t buy perfect security,” says former Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence Korb.  “It’s all about making choices and trade-offs as you look at what role you want the United States to play around the world.”

Here’s a contemporary question:  Can the $700 billion Pentagon annual budget remain sacred and out-of-bounds while the rest of fiscal Washington teeters on collapse?  Korb and two other panelists said no when they addressed World Affairs Council of Atlanta members last week.

Washington is in constipation over national debt and possible default this summer.  No party, no person and no idea have gained the high ground in a partisan argument that long ago went way past nasty.  Whether U.S. military cuts could help the budget is almost never seriously discussed.  Whether we are prepared for the right enemy should be constantly in question.

When he delivered an address last week in Washington outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Our record of predicting where we will use military force since Vietnam is perfect — we have never once gotten it right.”  Gates will leave his post this month. Among his outgoing thoughts, “I’ve said repeatedly that I’d rather have a smaller, but superbly capable military than a larger, hollow, less capable one.  However we need to be honest … that a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things.”

Korb, along with Daniel Papp and Robert Kennedy, advanced a compelling argument during their World Affairs Council of Atlanta appearance that the military budget no longer fits the military mission, the budget is unaffordable in current economics and that our political and military leaders continue to overreact ten years after 9/11.

The 9/11 point was perhaps articulated best by Kennesaw State University president Papp whose resume includes senior research professor positions at the U.S. Army War College and many other military analysis assignments.

Daniel Papp, President, Kennesaw State University

“Many congressmen and congresswomen who I’ve talked to firmly believe they cannot broach cuts in defense because they would not be re-elected because the American people would respond by voting for their opponents,” Papp said.  “As a result of that very understandable continuing impact of 9/11, in many of our representatives’ eyes the defense budget is sacred.”

The Pentagon spends north of $550 billion annually in its baseline budget and it engages in Iraq and Afghanistan on another $150 billion in supplemental appropriations.  The baseline budget is roughly $100 billion greater per year in inflation adjusted dollars than what it cost to outlast the Soviet Union in the Cold War.  “As far as I know, we prevailed in the Cold War,” Korb noted.

You can maintain a lot of military stuff for $700 billion.  The U.S. deploys eleven aircraft carrier groups; no other country has more than two; Russia has one.  The Pentagon has 1,900 nuclear missiles online and 5,000 offline, which Korb said costs some $30 billion to maintain.

Eighty thousand Americans are stationed in Europe.  “For what,” Korb asked.  “Hitler’s dead.  Stalin’s dead.  The Cold War is over, so why do we still have 80,000 troops?  The reason we have to protect Europe is because they’re cutting their defense budgets to deal with the deficit.”

Yet, the most serious recent threat to our national security was found not in the Kremlin, or in Beijing or in Pyongyang or in Tehran.  It came from a terrorist who lived in a million-dollar compound in Pakistan.  A U.S. Navy Seals bullet to the head ended Osama bin Laden’s journey but the al Qaeda movement survives and it remains among our greatest national security challenges.

Lawrence Korb, Former U.S. Assistant Defense Secretary

“Failed states and states that harbor the development of terrorist groups are a danger to this country,” Papp said.  “There aren’t too many out there so the question is, how do you deal with the few that are out there?  The much more dangerous threat from my perspective is a small group that gets some type of WMD (weapon of mass destruction).

“You don’t deal with them aircraft carrier battle groups.  You deal with them, as this country has been doing pretty well for the past ten years, with sophisticated and steadily improving intelligence capabilities.  That’s what we’ve got to do.  That’s where we’ve got to put the emphasis.”

Think about these numbers and how they are moving in the wrong direction:  Eleven years ago the United States accounted for one-third of the world’s annual military expense and Americans produced one-third of the world’s gross domestic product.  Today the U.S. spends 46 percent of worldwide military expenditures and our GDP is about one-quarter of world GDP.   NATO allies spend another 21 percent of the world’s defense budget; China spends 6.6-to-8 percent and Russia 3.5-to-5 percent.

“If you look around, we are spending as much as the rest of the world combined,” said Korb, who used “conned” and “shell game” to describe Pentagon budgets.  Notably, the baseline budget was in the $280 billion vicinity before 9/11.  “War on terror is a stupid phrase because who’s your enemy?”  Korb said.  “Terror is a tactic.  You can’t go to war against a tactic.”

Robert Kennedy, Professor, Sam Nunn School of International Affairs

Korb and Papp were joined by Robert Kennedy, former foreign affairs officer with the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, professor at the U.S. Army War College and civilian deputy commandant of the NATO Defense College in Rome, Italy.  Kennedy has been a professor at Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs since 1989.

“When you look at what you should spend on defense you must size that against the nature of the threat,” Kennedy said.   He noted the baseline and supplemental appropriation military budgets are more than ten times the size of the State Department’s entire budget, adding that even a modest increase to diplomacy “would really improve our situation globally and we won’t need those extraordinary heavy forces that are unlikely to see combat in the future.”

There are many opinions about how much the United States should spend on defense, especially now during fiscal chaos.  Incidentally, your share is about $2,250.  Thought you would want to know.

About the World Affairs Council of Atlanta

The mission of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta is to provide a forum for dialogue, a source of expertise, and an engine for research on international affairs and global issues that impact the corporate community, governmental and non-governmental organizations, and the general public.  The Council recently hosted NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The WCA is housed at Georgia State University.  Click here for additional information.

Lawrence Korb Biography link

Robert Kennedy Biography link

Daniel Papp Biography link

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation

June 1, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NATO Top Diplomat in Atlanta: Washington and Pakistan Need Each Other

Mike Klein

Pakistan’s prime minister uttered menacing words toward Washington on Monday as diplomatic nerves continue to fray after American troops took out Osama bin Laden.  But thousands of miles away in Atlanta, the NATO Secretary General was equally forceful in saying that success in that part of the world means Washington and Pakistan need each other.

“Osama bin Laden apparently has been hiding in Pakistan for quite some years.  That fact raises a lot of questions,” NATO’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.  “My bottom line is that we need strong cooperation from Pakistan.  If we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan and beyond, then we need the positive engagement of Pakistan.”

Rasmussen noted that he spoke with President Barack Obama after the military strike that took out the al Qaeda terrorist.  “Osama bin Laden stood against all the values that America and Europe have shared and upheld for many decades, freedom, tolerance and humanity.”

NATO’s Secretary General also brought this observation to Atlanta:  “Over the past few months brave people throughout the Arab world have cried out for freedom, freedom that we have enjoyed for many decades, not least thanks to NATO.  Change is taking hold in the Middle East and North Africa but Libya is an exception. Colonel (Moammar) Gadhafi and his regime are repressing their people who have expressed the desire for freedom.”

Rasmussen made Atlanta the second of four cities on a whirlwind getting-to-know-you better tour that began in Washington, D.C. this past weekend, continues in Austin, Texas on Tuesday, and then moves to Chicago before the Secretary General returns to Washington later this week.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen (NATO Photo)

“My bottom line is, there is no alternative to a positive engagement with Pakistan,” the former two-term Prime Minister of Denmark told 200 World Affairs Council of Atlanta guests at The Commerce Club.   “We should support those forces in Pakistan that realize the real threats against the Pakistani society come from terrorists and extremists.”

Pakistan is feeling emotionally tattooed after Americans parachuted under the cover of night into Abbottabad, landed in bin Laden’s compound, easily killed him and then flew away with his shot-up body and an enormous cache of intelligence that U.S. officials believe will be invaluable in the effort to find and kill or capture more terrorists.

Pakistan reacted with bewilderment, dismay and embarrassment last week. Then on Monday, a defiant Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told his Parliament that bin Laden’s death was “justice done” but he also warned Washington, “Unilateralism runs the inherent risk of serious consequences.”

U.S. officials now believe intelligence taken from bin Laden’s compound proves the terrorist was still engaged at high levels within al Qaeda, which has long been tied to Afghanistan’s Taliban.

Rasmussen said Taliban insurgents are at a crossroads. “Continued fighting will lead to Taliban defeat.  So, time has come for the Taliban to cut links with al Qaeda.  Extremism has no future.  Cut links with al Qaeda, renounce violence, engage in the political process, help rebuilding the Afghan society.”

Rasmussen seemed publicly less concerned about growing political pressure that bin Laden’s death means the United States should downsize its costly military commitment in Afghanistan.

“International terrorism still poses a direct threat to our security and stability across the world.”  Afghanistan, Rasmussen said, “has been ravaged by over 30 years of conflict.  We have the right strategy, the right resources and the resolve to see this through.  We will continue our mission to ensure that Afghanistan does not return to being a sanctuary for extremists and terrorists.”

Rasmussen has several times publicly stated that Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Gadhafi must go.  “There is no military solution solely to the problems in Libya.  And, it’s hard to imagine that attacks against the civilian population would stop as long as Gadhafi remains in power.”

NATO assumed command of multi-national forces aligned against Libya five weeks ago.  “Consider this: What if we had stood by and watched as Gadhafi’s regime killed innocent civilians in Benghazi?  What would that have said about our values?” Rasmussen asked.

NATO has flown 5,500 sorties against Libyan government forces.  “We have significantly downgraded Gadhafi’s war machine. The clear message is, Gadhafi, it’s time to leave.  Your time is out.  There is no future for you and your regime.”

Rasmussen arrived in the United States on Saturday.  He visited wounded service personnel at the U.S. military hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  The NATO Secretary General is also making time to meet with Georgia and Texas National Guard troops. “I am grateful for their service and for their sacrifice.”

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

May 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment