Hagel’s budget, NW realities

The trouble with peace, it seems, is it doesn’t always pencil out.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s preview of the administration’s shrinking postwar budget is a sober reminder of what the United States sacrificed after more than a decade of extended ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It also foreshadows the evolving face of battle: More technology, cyber-warfare, smaller, nimbler forces and (we hope against hope) less bloodshed.

The new normal of a leaner military could transform the American century into the multipolar century (or the Chinese/Russian/American century.) “We are entering an era where American dominance on the seas, in the skies and in space can no longer be taken for granted,” Hagel said Monday.

The new reality includes reducing the active-duty Army from 522,000 soldiers today to between 440,000 and 450,000. It’s a circa-1940 force level that’s likely to tick up. The Army National Guard would shrink by 20,000 and the Army Reserve by 10,000. The Navy will see a reduction in combat ships, but not its 11 aircraft carriers. The Air Force will lose its A-10 “Warthog” tank-killer planes and the venerable U-2 spy plane.

Of note to Northwest lawmakers is Hagel’s call for another round of domestic military base closings in 2017. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission process is excruciating, labor-intensive and often political, although the perfect-world mission is to de-politicize turf battles. The process also brings out the ironic spectacle of Pentagon critics suddenly trumpeting the benefits of military bases in their individual districts. This parochial push-back is understandable since military assets are a huge economic windfall. In Snohomish County, Naval Station Everett is the second biggest employer. And Whidbey Island Naval Air Station has been the lifeblood of Island County for decades.

In 2012, the Department of Defense issued a guidance report, Priorities for 21st Century Defense, that anticipated force restructuring. Washington state used it as a framework to underscore the alignment of Northwest bases and a broader national strategy.

“The State frequently makes decisions about investments to keep a thriving business, or to attract new businesses to the Evergreen State. Defense Department spending in Washington exceeds $13 billion annually, and the installations and supporting communities warrant an effective, coordinated and prioritized state-wide, support strategy.” the Office of Financial Management report reads.

Getting peace to pencil out can be a cynical process, as parties battle over a shrinking pie.

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