Center for Strategic Communication

With sequestration looking likely at the end of the week, the picture of the impact on U.S. national security gets clearer by the day.

So far much of the spotlight is on what largely indiscriminate cuts of around 12% to the defense budget this fiscal year will do to military readiness or shipyard job losses. If Congress kicks the can again, the cuts will be deeper this year. The U.S. defense budget has risen more than 80%, excluding ongoing war costs, since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. There is a need to reduce military spending, and room to do it responsibly if it is the product of our best strategic thinking.

Sequestration is in no way the responsible thing, however.

Effective defense budget cuts are precise and deliberate, not the result of the political equivalent of a professional wrestling match that is culminating in across the board reductions.

Not only can sequestration weaken the military, it already threatens U.S. national security in a way that is not being talked about enough: damage to American competitiveness.

America’s national security today depends on a dynamic and resilient economy, a reliable and affordable healthcare system, reasonable immigration policies, solid infrastructure, a competitive defense industrial base and an education system worthy of the country’s potential. The armed forces are, of course, a cornerstone of our national security. But focusing solely on this element as the best measure of American power can lead to faulty assumptions and bad policymaking.

In a last-minute bid to raise the stakes this week, the White House has finally detailed how it sees state level sequestration cuts playing out, impacting everything from worker retraining in Massachusetts to furloughs of 90,000 Defense Department workers in Virginia. These are estimates, and should be taken as such. See the White House estimates.

Even so, the real value of these figures is not in their precise tally but in the comprehensive picture of how sequestration, even a truncated or phased version, will damage the resiliency and dynamism of the American system, and therefore American competitiveness.

Understanding our national security in the 21st Century means acknowledging the role played by American competitiveness. Doing so means appreciating the local impact of sequestration as much as the impact on the strength of the U.S. military, and the potential damage if needed budget cuts are not informed by strategic thinking.


Read more about our American Competitiveness work here.