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Military spending is under review

The future of military spending is underway in the nation’s capital.

“I believe that where we are now is about as low as we can go,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters in May, during a discussion of that service branch’s staffing level. “If we continue to go lower, we’re going to have to say we cannot do all the things we’re doing today.”

But go lower the Army will, according to plans revealed recently. By 2018, another 40,000 soldiers will be cut from the force. That will put it at 440,000-450,000 troops – lower than at any time since before World War II.

Pentagon officials say they have to reduce the force to cope with budget cuts, especially those envisioned under the “sequester” process. But those reductions are proportionately far less than the number of personnel cuts the Army is slating. The service’s current year budget, $147 billion, is just $2 billion less than for the previous year.

Since 2012, as withdrawals of troops from Afghanistan proceeded and the effects of the Iraq pullout became apparent, the Army has reduced strength by 80,000 soldiers. If current plans are left in place, the force will be 21 percent smaller in 2018 than it was in 2012.

Meanwhile, expenditures for hardware continue rising. Sixteen billion dollars is allocated for new planes, vehicles, etc., during the current year, compared to $14 billion in the last budget period.

Defense officials are right to be worried about whether the Army can do all the American people expect. The nation’s obligations are enormous; about 140,000 soldiers are stationed in 150 countries throughout the world. Should an unforeseen emergency occur, there is a question about whether the Army would be able to respond adequately.

Rather than make what they know are risky cuts to the size of the force, U.S. officials should be looking at spending for high-tech weaponry that may not be needed. They also should reconsider whether other countries, spending far less of their GDPs on defense, should benefit from American protection.

It is essential the nation get its fiscal house in order. But defense is the federal government’s most critical responsibility. Saving money on troop numbers without re-examining equipment spending makes no sense – and neither does protecting other countries at potential hazard to our own.

Hard choices must be made in the days ahead.

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