The FY2013 Defense Budget, the Threat of Defense Cuts and Sequestration and the Strategy-Reality Gap

The US faces a major crisis in reshaping its strategy and forces at a time when it must sharply constrain federal spending, continue making major force cuts, and cope with the threat of sequestration and massive further cuts in national security spending. The Burke Chair has prepared an updated analysis by Anthony H. Cordesman and Robert M. Shelala II that traces the pressures affecting defense spending during the coming decade, the success of the new strategy in dealing with these pressures in concrete workable terms, and the resulting gap between the new strategy and the probable trends in resources.

This analysis is entitled US Strategy, Sequestration in 
March, and the Growing StrategyReality Gap
, and is available on the CSIS web site at:

It provides a detailed summary of the new strategy – generally quoting directly from its text – and shows how it has or has not affected the spending trends from FY2013-FY2017 as projected by the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense. Where possible, detailed graphs and charts portray the exact trends involved.

It also compares the information in the new strategy document with the details of the President’s request for both the total FY2013 federal budget and the FY2013 defense budget, and examines the recent actions of congress and how the trends in the total budget and in national security spending affect US capabilities to implement its national security strategy. The report assesses the potential impact of sequestration, and a range of major issues that the new strategy has not resolved and that present major risks in terms of implementation.

The analysis finds that a major gap exists between the broad, undefined strategic rhetoric in the new strategy and the budget-driven spending cuts in the FY2013 budget submission. Far too much of the prose in the new strategy has little more depth than the average fortune cookie. There are no clear force plans, procurement plans, personnel plans, or spending plans in most areas. The mission categories and priorities are not adequately explained or justified, and key areas of spending, like the projected expenditure on the Afghan conflict, raise serious questions. Moreover, the steady escalation of personnel and procurement costs also raise question as to whether the projected spending can buy anything like the projected force.

More generally, it finds that sequestration is only one threat the US faces in developing an effective strategy and set of force plans. There are serious risks that the overall pressures on federal spending could lead to significant future cuts beyond those projected in the FY2013 defense budget submission. The new strategy and FY2013 budget request also fail to provide any clear basis for integrating the defense portion of the national security strategy with the funding and activities of the State Department and USAID, or with the broad range of activities that OMB lists under the heading of Homeland Defense.

Robert M. Shelala II