WASHINGTON – With cuts to the national defense budget looming, experts say Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta may be overly optimistic about how increased reliance on military technology will enhance defense strategy.
In a briefing at the Pentagon Thursday, Panetta outlined the new “Defense Strategic Review,” which broke down an estimated $487 billion in budget cuts over the next decade. It opened with rare remarks from President Barack Obama, who said he brought the plan together “to clarify our strategic interests in a fast-changing world, and to guide our defense priorities and spending over the coming decade.”
It was the first time any president had held a news briefing at the Pentagon.
Panetta said the future military force will be “smaller and leaner, but its great strength will be that it is more agile, flexible, ready to deploy quickly, innovative and technologically advanced.” The New York Times reported the Army would shrink to 490,000 soldiers — down about 75,000 men and women — over the next decade. A long-term investment in unmanned drone surveillance also seems imminent. There are 775 drones in the U.S. inventory, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s “Policy Options for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.”
Catherine Lutz, who wrote the book “The Bases of Empire: The Struggle Against U.S. Military Posts,” said talks over the shift toward technological warfare have persisted since the end of the Cold War more than 20 years ago. Some of the technologies the Pentagon has invested in are counterproductive, and have resulted in civilian casualties, she said.
A study by the New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute, shows that 238 U.S. drone strikes from 2004 to 2011 in northern Pakistan killed between 1,680 and 2,634 — about 17 percent of them non-militants.
“The failures in Iran and Iraq had all those technologies built into them,” Lutz said. “The drone strikes are deeply involved in the strains in Iraq and Iran. That’s where we’ve been headed for a long time, not toward a military efficacy but towards faith in technology to save us in military campaigns.”
She said the new proposal of budget reductions represents only a 4 percent decline in inflation-adjusted terms, according to the Project of Defense Alternatives. People looking at the proposed budget numbers should view them with caution, and not fall for a “pipe dream,” Lutz said. As for the wonders of new technology: “The failures of Iran and Iraq had all those technologies invested in them,” according to Lutz.
Beau Grosscup, professor of international relations at California State University in Chico, said the military is moving toward a crisis management system, a departure from the rearmament focus of the Bush administration. Rather than rely on a ground force that would produce long-term civilian casualties, this trilateral strategy uses all other options – negotiations with allies and strategic bombings — before putting soldiers on the ground to “leave a large footprint.”
“He’s not interested in cutting military spending,” he said. “He’s interested in cutting the rate of increase.”
Grosscup, who wrote the book “Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial Bombardment,” said the strategic shift to more technological reliance puts the long-term health of returning soldiers and veterans in the spotlight. The reliance reinforces the strategic shift to what he calls “full spectrum dominance,” which gives the U. S. the opportunity to fight multiple wars at once in whatever region, no matter the scale.
The shift represents a departure from relying on military force to resolve conflicts and to stop them from spreading. However, Grosscupsaid that strategic bombings have incited more opposition, and drone strikes have been historically imprecise.
“They’re looking to back away from the military-first option,” Grosscup said.