Defense Cuts, Sequestration, and the US Defense Budget

The mix of ongoing defense cuts from prior years, the impact of sequestration in March, and the president’s proposed 2014 defense budget have created a series of complex shifts that are changing America’s military posture. At the same, the administration is seeking to change America’s strategy to shift away from a decade of war and emphasis on counterinsurgency to a strategy that focuses on strategic partnerships with US allies in Asia and the Middle East while preserving the core of the US presence in Asia.

The Burke Chair has prepared an overview of the official reporting on these shifts that focuses on the impact of sequestration as well as the FY2014 budget request as briefed by the Office of the Sectary of Defense and by each of the military services.  This summary is a reference based almost exclusively on the charts, graphs, and tables offered in official reporting. It covers the key shifts during FY2011-FY2013, between FY2013 and FY2014, and in the future year request through FY2018.

These data do show that the US has made major cuts in its planned defense spending, and that some of these cuts are having an important impact on US deterrent and warfighting capabilities. At the same time, they show that the US does plan to preserve its readiness, key power projection capabilities, and make major continuing improvements in military modernization. If the Congress supports the president’s FY2014 budget request, and proposed programs for the period from FY2014 through FY2018, the US will remain the world’s preeminent military power and be able to support its allies throughout the world.

The new report is entitled US Defense Budget Cuts, Sequestration, and the FY2014 Budget Submission, and is available on the CSIS website at

Three smaller reports support this brief. One is a concise, service-by-service overview of the FY2014 Department of Defense budget request. It is entitled US Defense Budget Cuts and the FY2014 Budget Submission, and is available on the CSIS website at

The second shows the extent to which entitlement programs, retirement costs, and rising medical costs are driving today’s federal spending crisis, rather than the cost of national security. This report is entitled Entitlements, Lack of Retirement Savings, and Rising Medical Costs – Not Defense – Should Drive the Federal Spending Debate, and is available on the CSIS website at

The third report summarize the extent to which past efforts to define US strategy have become decoupled from real-world resources, meaningful force plans, and clear priorities for force modernization and development. It is entitled US Strategy and the Growing Strategy-Reality Gap, and is available on the CSIS website at

This latter report helps lay the groundwork for understanding the strategic impact of US military spending, but it should be noted that much of it is now dated, and the documentation supporting the FY2014 defense budget request does indicate that the Department of Defense and the military services are now beginning to define what the new US strategy developed at the end of 2011 really means in terms of key factors like force plans, military spending, force restructuring and modernization, deployments, and partnerships with current and new allies. The fact remains, however, that there are far too many cases where US strategy still seems to consist more of concepts than real-world plans and capabilities: cases where the US may be winning PowerPoints, but still cannot define tangible plans or turn its concepts into realities.


Robert M. Shelala II