US policymakers and other world leaders have watched intently as civil war has erupted in Libya. In recent days, reports of air strikes on Libyan rebels and civilians have led some in the international community to call for a no-fly zone. Some argue that since US vital interests are not at stake, America should not become engaged in yet another military operation while the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq remain unresolved. There are also those who argue that given the United States’ declining fiscal position, those African and European states whose interests are directly involved in Libya should step-up and implement a no-fly zone. The Pentagon has weighed in, urging caution, and noting that the costs and difficulties of no-fly zones are generally higher than perceived.
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The Obama Administration today unveiled its defense budget request for FY 2012, which totals $553 billion in discretionary funding for the peacetime costs of the Department of Defense (DoD) and $5 billion in mandatory funding. In addition to the “base” budget, the administration also requests $118 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and $27 billion for national defense activities in the Department of Energy and other agencies. Altogether, the total national defense budget request is $703 billion for FY 2012.
This backgrounder addresses the current state of the FY 2011 defense budget, identifies insights stemming from Secretary Gates’ announcement on the FY 2012 budget, and raises budgetary and programmatic issues likely to complicate DoD’s planning over the Future Year Defense Program (FYDP).
With a federal budget deficit that exceeded $1.3 trillion in FY 2010 and a rapidly mounting national debt, the findings of the Fiscal Commission established to identify ways to balance the budget have been much anticipated. Tackling the deficit is important to restoring the government’s fiscal health and the nation’s economic prosperity. It is also important to national security. History has demonstrated that in times of major conflict, the fiscal might of the United States and the ability to mobilize resources on a massive level have been a source of enduring strategic advantage. But with the deficit near record levels, the debt load rising, and interest payments on the debt consuming a greater share of the budget each year, this advantage is rapidly eroding.
The United States is struggling to emerge from the greatest peacetime economic downturn since the Great Depression. Known as the Great Recession, the country’s current fiscal difficulties seem unlikely to abate any time soon. If there is a consensus regarding the country’s recovery, it is that it will be both gradual and protracted.1 Some economists, eyeing the government’s rapidly growing debt and expanding obligations, have expressed concerns over the country’s ability to sustain healthy growth levels over the longer term. The implications for US security are potentially profound. Washington has long relied on its ability to bring to bear far greater resources than any other country against any threat to the nation’s security. If current trends play out, this advantage is almost certain to diminish, perhaps dramatically, in the coming years. Long accustomed to pursuing a “rich man’s” approach to strategy, the United States will find itself increasingly challenged to take a “smart man’s” approach—one for which it seems ill-prepared.
As the economy begins to emerge from the deepest recession since the Great Depression, the federal government faces a dire fiscal situation. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, the budget deficit rose to a record high of $1.4 trillion, and it is forecasted to reach as high as $1.6 trillion in FY 2010. These record deficits are due in no small part to increased spending on fiscal stimulus programs and a sharp reduction in tax revenues due to the recession. But underlying the current fiscal situation is a structural deficit that the economic downturn has only exacerbated. A telling indicator of this is that one of the fastest growing items in the budget is net interest on the national debt. According to OMB projections, in FY 2018 the federal government will begin spending more on net interest payments than on national defense for the first time in modern history.