Two Priorities: Fiscal Responsibility and National Security

As European governments try to reduce their budget deficits under pressure from financial markets, it is not just the social programs responsible for runaway spending that are being cut. Defense programs are also being reduced. In America, a push for fiscal responsibility will have to wait until after the November elections, but a similar squeeze on the Pentagon is expected.

The Office of Management of Budget Mid-Session Review released July 23 shows Washington's share of the national economy at 23.5 percent of GDP in 2020, compared to the average of 20.2 percent of GDP during the 20 years prior to 2009. Annual Federal spending will increase by $1.9 trillion between 2012 and 2020, but only $125 billion of this will go to the defense budget. The Congressional Budget Office forecasts "mandatory" entitlement spending rising by an average of 4.4 percent during the 2012-2020 period, but "discretionary" defense spending rising only 1.7 percent annually, meaning a reduction in real resources available for military programs as inflation takes its toll. Many high-tech projects such as the F-22 air superiority fighter, the Army's future combat systems program, shipbuilding and missile defense have already been cut.

Meanwhile, in the wake of months of competing military exercises in Asia, the Chinese are talking more openly about expanding their fleet to contest control of the western Pacific. A July 30 editorialGlobal Times, a publication of the Chinese Communist Party, claimed "The public strongly desires an aircraft carrier because of the prestige associated with one, the power it projects to the rest of the world and the sense of defensive security it provides." The editorial then outlines the advantages and costs before endorsing the creation of a carrier capability.

 In the South China Sea, for example, where tensions occasionally spill over, an aircraft carrier might help China achieve victory in small-scale clashes in disputed waters. However, the win might turn a relatively small dispute into long running hostility that destabilizes bilateral relationships.

But on the high seas, an aircraft carrier could be an effective tool to maintain order, and it could win China respect from neighboring countries.

But on the high seas, an aircraft carrier could be an effective tool to maintain order, and it could win China respect from neighboring countries.

The number of the aircraft carriers China hopes to posses should also be well pondered. Too small a fleet and it may be ineffective, but an oversized fleet will eat up too much of the defense budget.

The best deployment of an aircraft carrier would be for effective deterrence and to strengthen China's military power. A carrier could also provide a platform to launch industrial and technological upgrades.

A sound aircraft carrier strategy should be put in place to optimize its future functions.
The mention of the South China Sea, the region's principle trade route, is central to the naval competition. A July 26 Global Times editorial attacked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent plea that disputes in the South China Sea be settled peacefully while keeping maritime navigation open. It called it an example of American "interference in disputed areas." The voice of the ruling party declared,
China's long-term strategic plan should never be taken as a weak stand. It is clear that military clashes would bring bad results to all countries in the region involved, but China will never waive its right to protect its core interest with military means.
And to prove its point, the Chinese held a large scale air and naval exercise in the South China Sea last week. The People's Liberation Army Chief of Staff General Chen Bingde watched the operation and was quoted by the official Xinhua news agency as saying the nation must make "solid preparation for military struggle."

Fiscal responsibility is vital to the U.S. economy but must not be pursued at the expense of national security in an increasingly dangerous world. The budget issue is about priorities as well as about size.