The Defense Budget's Double Whammy: Drawing Down While Hollowing Out from Within

A Falling Topline
After a decade of steadily increasing defense budgets—the base budget of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) increased about 40 percent in real terms from 2001 to 2012—DoD must reduce spending by $487 billion from FY2012–FY2021 in order to comply with the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). If sequestration is triggered—as it will be on January 2, 2013, in the absence of a “grand bargain” or alternative act of Congress to address deficit reduction—it will impose approximately $500 billion in additional defense budget cuts from FY2013–FY2021.

While the prospect of a drawdown of this magnitude has raised alarm bells inside DoD, prompting official predictions of an impending “disaster” or “catastrophe,” the combination of BCA caps and sequester cuts would result in a defense budget drawdown of about 31 percent from the FY2010 peak to the FY2017 trough, resulting in a drawdown that is actually below the historical range (from 43 percent after the Korean War to 33 percent after Vietnam [see Figure 1]). This cut is significant to be sure, but it does not reach that of previous postwar drawdowns.

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Clark A. Murdock is a senior adviser, and Kelley Sayler a research associate, with the Defense and National Security Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Ryan A. Crotty is a research associate with the CSIS Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.


Clark A. Murdock

Clark A. Murdock

Former Senior Adviser (Non-resident), International Security Program

Kelley Sayler