American aircraft carriers are doomed to failure

Security Policy: The US military can cope with a change of strategy

The need to cut costs in US defense policy will hardly affect the military's ability to act. America remains a global leader. A comment


Read on one side

The one recently introduced by President Barack Obama Defense Strategy Guidance the future formation of the American military receives a great deal of media attention. Their content is neither surprising nor are the effects dramatic. A significant reduction in American military engagement in the world is not to be expected.

Johannes Thimm

Johannes Thimm is researching the Foundation Science and Politics mainly on the USA. The foundation advises the Bundestag and the federal government on all questions of foreign and security policy. The article appears on the SWP homepage under the heading Briefly.

Two motives come together in the strategic reorientation of the USA: On the one hand, Obama wants to set new accents in foreign policy after a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On the other hand, savings must be made. Since the US budget deficit entered the political agenda with power in 2011, the government has been looking for ways to reduce its spending. With currently more than 660 billion US dollars, the defense budget is the second largest budget item after the social security systems. In the fight against the deficit, therefore, there is no avoiding savings in defense spending.

Last summer, the US government announced savings in the military of around 450 billion US dollars over the next ten years. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has now specified this figure to 487 billion US dollars. However, this is not about cutting the current level of expenditure. Rather, the government plans to spend about eight percent less in the next ten years than the Pentagon originally planned for this period. Indeed, the defense budget continues to grow, albeit less than originally intended.

Cuts far less dramatic than it appears

It therefore initially seems unfounded for critics to warn that such cuts cannot be expected of the military. However, there are legitimate concerns that further cuts will follow. In August 2011, Congress passed a law requiring additional cuts in the defense budget from 2013 of $ 500 billion by 2023. Overall, the budget could therefore turn out to be one trillion US dollars lower than assumed at the end of 2010. The second round of savings would be far more painful as it would actually reduce spending and apply the "lawnmower" principle to all programs. Voices warning that the US military could lose its clout and that American leadership is in jeopardy in the medium term are primarily focusing on these cuts.

It is currently uncertain whether the additional cuts will become a reality. Neither the government nor Congress want them, and the law is not irreversible. But even if they are implemented, the horror scenarios are exaggerated.