If the White House wants to achieve its policy goals, Congress must approve a budget first—the contents of which signal priorities for the country not only domestically, but to allies and adversaries abroad. The defense budget and its $715 million price tag accounts for much of the U.S. government's discretionary spending every year, but where will (and should) this money go in this era of great-power competition? CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation around the creation and prioritization of the budget and how it's being harnessed to meet 21st century threats. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their ideas and recommendations.
Risky Business: Future Strategy and Force Options for the Defense Department
Despite the overarching strategic priorities laid out by the Biden administration and initial indicators provided by the Department of Defense (DoD), it is unclear how the next National Defense Strategy will prioritize threats and assign the primary role of the U.S. military. In a CNAS report, Stacie L. Pettyjohn, Becca Wasser, and Jennie Matuschak examine three possible strategy and force structure options for the Biden administration under a flat budget. Using tabletop exercises and budgetary analysis, they assess whether these options can sufficiently meet the challenges of daily competition and future great-power conflict, and ensure America’s long-term military technological edge.
Navigating the Billions
"If you have never interacted with the defense budget it can be daunting," writes Molly Parrish in a budget guide. "The process is made up of dozens of acronyms and the data is spread over thousands of pages on various websites. However, with a bit of basic knowledge, the novice budget analyst can navigate the billions of dollars within the defense budget request."
Stories from the Backchannel: Building the World’s Biggest Budget
What do the Pentagon's decisions about military spending say about our priorities as a nation? What goes into the DoD's $700 billion budget each year? Former Director of the CNAS Defense Program Susanna V. Blume joins Ilan Goldenberg to discuss what the composition and size of the defense budget reveals about America’s national security priorities.
War Powers: What Are They Good For?
"Alliances, security cooperation and assistance partnerships, the prioritization and availability of intelligence tools, defense, budgets, posture and planning, technological control and resiliency—all of these, and more, are sometimes crucial steps preceding possible intervention," argue Richard Fontaine, Loren DeJonge Schulman, and Stephen Tankel in a report on congressional war powers. "Oversight of them is dispersed among disparate congressional committees that have little incentive and process established for information sharing, collaboration, or connecting their own dots."
A People-First U.S. Assistance Strategy for the Middle East
"The U.S. assistance mix in the Middle East must be rebalanced away from security assistance and toward development, democracy, humanitarian, and stabilization programs as part of a broader strategy emphasizing civilian rather than military tools," observe CNAS experts Ilan Goldenberg, Kaleigh Thomas, Daphne McCurdy, and Sydney Scarlata. "Since 9/11, the United States has spent approximately $228 billion in total foreign aid in the Middle East. Most of this has been security assistance, sometimes referred to as military assistance, which serves primarily to benefit the recipient country’s military capability."
The Fiscal Year 2022 Defense Budget and Future Options for the Pentagon
Stacie Pettyjohn, senior fellow and director of the CNAS Defense Program, testified in front of the House Armed Services Committee about the latest defense budget with a focus on the linkages between the next National Defense Strategy, force structures, and resources.
Gradually and Then Suddenly: Explaining the Navy's Strategic Bankruptcy
"The U.S. Navy is on the verge of strategic bankruptcy. Its fleet isn’t large enough to meet global day-to-day demands for naval forces," writes Christopher Dougherty in War on the Rocks. "Due to repeated deployments and maintenance backlogs, the fleet also isn’t ready enough to meet these demands safely, nor can it quickly surge in an emergency. Finally, the fleet isn’t capable enough to meet the challenges posed by China’s increasingly modern and aggressive People’s Liberation Army Navy. How did this happen to a force that, as recently as two decades ago, dominated the world’s oceans to a degree perhaps unequalled in human history? The answer is gradually and then suddenly."
It’s Only Going to Get Harder to Recruit and Retain Troops in a Post-Pandemic World
"The COVID-19 crisis has shown how critically important personnel are to overall readiness," argue Emma Moore and CAPT Mike Martinez in Defense One. "Yet for all Defense Department leaders’ talk about the qualitative advantage that American troops possess over our adversaries, still innovation and investment in people processes have taken a back seat to exquisite and expensive weapons. If the trillions of dollars in pandemic-relief spending lead to lower defense budgets and end-strengths, the services will need to be better equipped to identify and retain exactly the right people with the right mix of skills and experience."
The US Army’s New Iron Triangle: The Coming Budget Crunch and its Implications for Modernization
"Each side of the iron triangle comes with its own implications for doctrine, force structure, readiness, posture, and modernization," observes Billy Fabian in Defense News. "And while there is certainly some commonality and fungibility across them, the optimal force for each differs considerably. Blunting Russian aggression entails conducting large-scale maneuver warfare on highly contested continental battlefields. This means a future force centered on heavy armor—backed by artillery, mobile air defenses and other enablers—that is sufficiently forward-postured to be able to overcome the tyranny of time and counter a short-warning attack."
Ditch Use-or-Lose Budgets in the Department of Defense
"As near-peer adversaries of the United States invest in disruptive military technology ranging from hypersonic missiles to cyberweapons, the Department of Defense must respond accordingly with its own investment in research and development," writes Luke Chen in a CNAS Commentary. "While the 2018 National Defense Strategy is a welcome sign that strategic priorities and the spending that comes along with them are moving in the right direction, problems remain with the execution of this spending. The “use-it-or-lose-it” budget phenomenon, in which organizations scramble to spend their unused budget at the end of the year to maintain their budget size for the next year, remains problematic for the department. The numbers are staggering—in the last week of fiscal year 2017, the DoD spent $23 billion on contracts, a number four times the average amount of every other week in that year."
In the News
Featuring commentary and analysis by Richard Fontaine, Becca Wasser, Katherine Kuzminski, Martijn Rasser, and Stacie Pettyjohn.
About the Sharper Series
The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.
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