Dancing with the Four Stars

Weekly WastebasketDancing with the Four Stars

National Security  | Quick Takes
Mar 11, 2016  | 6 min read

Well, that didn’t take long. The tremendously bad idea, seeded two years ago, to move the funding for the next generation of ballistic missile submarine out of the Navy’s budget and into a new fund in the office of the Secretary of Defense has put down roots and grown beyond the submarine program. The original “rationale” for this idea was that submarines are national assets, not Navy assets, and therefore the Office of the Secretary of Defense should pay for them. At the time, we pointed out that all military weapon programs are national assets. It isn’t the Army that went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq – it was the United States.

As we’ve been predicting at Taxpayers for Common Sense since day one, the Air Force has now said it should likewise be relieved of budgetary responsibility for the next generation of long-range bombers, the recently unveiled B-21. This wasn’t the surprising part of Air Force Secretary Debbie Lee James’ press conference on March 7th. The surprising part was that she believes a national debate is needed on whether or not to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad. It’s sad that it was surprising, because that is the rational approach.

We agree with the Secretary 100%. A national debate is needed on this important topic. The Pentagon is on the cusp of launching a program that would spend hundreds of billions (if not a trillion) of dollars to update not just the submarine launched ballistic missiles, but also the silo-based ballistic missiles, and the nuclear cruise missiles launched from bombers like the proposed B-21. That debate needs to include a discussion of the threats the United States will actually face in the 21st century. Any honest enumeration of those threats has to put terrorism by non-state and state actors at or near the top of the list as then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey did in “The National Military Strategy of the United States of America 2015.” And, to state the obvious, we aren’t going to nuke the terrorists.

So why not take the money that would be used to modernize the most vulnerable leg of the triad (if nuns can break into the facility, they aren’t that secret or safe), the silo-based missiles, and devote it to improving other capabilities that will contribute to making us safer from terrorism? Not everyone will agree, but a list of such capabilities would probably include: more special forces, more counter-terrorism and anti-terrorism/force protection assets, enhanced surveillance programs, and more money spent on intelligence gathering. It is precisely because not all Americans will agree on all of these options that a national debate is needed.

Instead of coming up with cost-effective options, we have some in the Pentagon and the Congress trying to waltz a nearly trillion dollar modernization plan into the already bloated Pentagon budget.  Until very recently, the only two in this tango to fleece the taxpayers were the Navy and the House Armed Services Committee where the idea of taking the submarine out of the Navy’s budget originated. The Appropriations Committees, the only committees that can direct a single taxpayer dollar to be spent, have stayed on the sidelines and refused to allow money to do-si-do into the new account. Unfortunately, there are a couple new people looking to cut in.

In addition to Secretary James, Senator Jack Reed, from the shipbuilding state of Rhode Island, who serves in senior positions on both the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees has put on his boogie shoes. He said of the Sea-based Deterrence Fund earlier this week, “I am a member of the [Appropriations Defense] subcommittee and I will do all I can to make sure we can fund it.” In fact, according to the March 2nd edition of the Daily News, “Reed envisions the fund paying for not only the Navy’s Ohio-class replacement sub but also the Air Force’s next-generation bomber and to modernize the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Sigh. And there, potentially, goes the last bulwark against this terrible idea.

Instead, Congress needs to turn on the lights and bounce this idea off the Capitol Hill dance floor. It’s simply a gimmick that won’t save any money and will likely cost taxpayers dearly without supporting the real priorities to make us safe.  Unfortunately, with Senator Reed now supporting this budgetary two-step, nuclear modernization fans rejoice, while fiscal watchdogs like us mutter into our martinis and watch the action from the sidelines of the Capitol Hill dance floor.