The New US Strategy, the FY2013 Defense Budget, Sequestration, and the Growing Strategy-Reality Gap

  • Dec 19, 2012

    Whether or not, the US “plunges” of the fiscial cliff, the US faces a growing risk of a major crisis in national security because of the broader budget problems that affect future defense spending.  Even if the raised by the Budget Control Act did not exist, the US would still have to deal with the problems created by the Department of Defense’s failures to bring its costs under control, formulate realistic plans and budgets, and close the gap between its strategy and the need for realistic plans and budgets. For example, the CBO estimates that the Department of Defense has underestimated the true price of implementing its programs by $14 billion in FY2013 alone. This means that if sequestration went into effect, the Department would actually be $66 billion short of the resources needed to implement its programs in FY2013, and not simply due to the impact of sequestration alone.

    An updated study by the Burke Chair analyzes these strategic and budgetary risks in detail. It compares the information in the new strategy document with the details of the President’s request for both the total FY2013 federal budget in general and the defense budget in particular, and examines how the trends in the total budget – particularly forecasted increases in mandatory spending outlays – and in national security spending affect the US capability to implement its national security strategy. It also explores recent political developments relating to sequestration and the “fiscal cliff.”

    The full analysis is entitled The New US Strategy, the FY2013 Defense Budget, Sequestration, and the Growing Strategy-Reality Gap, and is available on the CSIS web site at

    The executive summary focuses on the broad impact of current defense plans on federal spending and the US economy, the dangers facing defense spending through the long-term as the result of growing expenditures on domestic entitlement spending, the impact of the Budget Control Act and Sequestration, and the problems caused by the Department’s failures to make realistic force plans and budget projections to bring its costs under control. This summary report also analyzes the pressures from entitlement spending – particularly Medicare and Social Security – on the overall US budget from FY2013 through the long term. It incorporates the most recent data on sequestration from the Office of Management and Budget, including specific figures on how individual Department of Defense accounts will be impacted by cuts.

    The full analysis also addresses the strategic dimension and the problems in US strategy in detail. It examines the critical shortcomings in the new strategy the Department of Defense issued early this year – often quoting directly from its text. It shows how vague and uncertain many aspects of the new US strategy are, that the military services are often developing their own approaches to strategy, and that many elements of the strategy remain decoupled from the FY2013-FY2017 Future Year Defense Plan. It shows 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 US new strategy has little more depth than the average fortune cookie. It has no clear force plans, procurement plans, personnel plans, or spending plans to support the new strategy in most areas. The mission 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 raise further questions as to whether the projected spending can buy anything like the projected force.

    Finally, the new strategy and FY2013 budget request also fail to provide a 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.

    The Burke Chair also offers an executive summary that focuses on the budget issues and shortfalls entitled The FY2013 Defense Budget, Deficits, Cost-Escalation, and Sequestration, which is available on the CSIS web site at

Find More From:

Anthony H. Cordesman