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Military Spending and International Influence

In a speech at the Pentagon on Monday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel proposed shrinking the Army, closing military bases and making other military-wide savings as part of a broad reshaping of priorities after more than a decade of war.

While Hagel argues that the military must adapt to the reality of smaller budgets that come with the conclusion of major military actions, opponents point to the volatile state of international affairs and the eminent power struggles with Russia, China, and within the Middle East.

In a nutshell, the plan looks to lower the number of standing troops and discontinue the production of various aircraft and machinery that can be considered outdated or redundant. Concurrently, it looks to up the quantity of special forces, keeping with Secretary Hagel’s promise of a “more capable force - putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries."

Though this development was to be expected in terms of content and timing, the anticipated opposition will instigate serious conversations on the role the United States is to take in the rapidly shifting international landscape. While it is certain that this will be overarching theme of the forthcoming Congressional battle, it willfully ignores the central tenet of the proposal: the United States Army will not suffer in terms of its fighting and peacekeeping capabilities.

Secretary Gates’ proposal does not look to reduce the tangible might of the United States military; it merely attempts to adequately compensate for the termination of two foreign conflicts by eliminating superfluous projects and refining the capabilities of the force.

"Our analysis showed that this force would be capable of decisively defeating aggression in one major combat theater - as it must be - while also defending the homeland and supporting air and naval forces engaged in another theater against an adversary," Gates said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff have put their support behind this statement.

All subsequent argumentation should count this statement as its foundation. The question that Congress must decide is not then “Do we need more troops?” but rather “Would this quantity of troops accomplish our objectives?”

The objective at hand is the advancement of American influence on the international stage, the pragmatic goal of all world superpowers. It would be myopic to urge the United States into the role of a bystander, as it runs contrary to the responsibility that the nation has put upon its shoulders over the last century. With the current state of geopolitical power struggles, the United States will continue to consider global authority as the principal goal of foreign policy.

With this focus in perspective, the answer to this question of necessary troops would be a confident yes. It is crucial to actually look at the numbers rather than to a loose conception of “larger” and “smaller.” First, it must be noted that the decrease would affect the Army, not the Armed Forces as a whole. The downsized army would be able to deploy three times the number of troops that were used in Iraq, a massive operation in its own right.

How would involvement in a future Sino-Japanese conflict exceed these numbers? Or in the tense situation in the Middle East, in which any foreseeable operations would be predicated on tactical success rather than sheer numbers? Clearly, the United States would still be able to address its international goals. It’s just trying to remain economically viable, the very issue of fiscal responsibility that conservatives in Congress stress to the citizenry. If the cuts would increase efficiency, why is Congress so resistant to it?

The best response is that we have reduced international influence to very simplistic terms, measuring base numbers rather than productivity. There is a certainly a point of maximum utility in terms of military size, we just have to become cognizant of it. The proposal by Secretary Gates looks to address this discrepancy. If the consensus can move away from measuring power purely through size, we may develop an improved military with reduced costs.

The United States will still have the 2nd largest standing army in the world, complimented by the most advanced technology that has ever existed. If one feels as though that it is still not enough to accomplish our current foreign policy agenda, then we veer from rationality to crippling insecurity. To those, remember that it is not purely size that matters. It’s how you use it.

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