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DODGE: The do’s and don’ts of defense spending

- - Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

"Many are called, but few are chosen." So it is with legislation.

During each two-year session, members of Congress consider approximately 10,000 bills and resolutions. Yet only 4 percent of these — about 400 total — become law.

Over the past few decades, one of the few bills to make it to the president's table year after year is the National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that authorizes funding for our men and women in uniform.

By authorizing how much money the Pentagon can spend — and on what — the legislation spells out congressional priorities for defense. It also directly affects how much our military can do and how effectively it can complete its missions.

As congressional leaders prepare to hammer out this year's act, they will be weighing what's needed to counter foreseeable threats with the desire to cut spending wherever prudent. Here are three suggestions to help achieve those goals.

1. Spend on missile defense. Both Iran and North Korea have been quite vocal about their desire to threaten the U.S. with missiles. Despite international disapproval and sanctions, both nations have steadily advanced both their ballistic missile programs and their nuclear programs. Meanwhile, under President Obama, the U.S. missile defense program has been sharply scaled back.

When North Korea trained its missiles on the U.S. earlier this year, Mr. Obama announced that he would deploy more ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast, and start looking for a good location to build land-based defenses on the East Coast.

To date, however, there has been no follow-through on those promises. Worse, the administration also announced that it would not go ahead with plans to install advanced interceptor missiles in Eastern Europe. So, instead of two steps forward on missile defense, we've taken another step back.

With the threat of catastrophic missile attack growing apace, America must recommit to building a "layered" missile defense — one that gives us opportunities to knock down missiles at several stages along their flight path. This includes land, sea and space-based interceptors, as well as an East Coast missile defense site.

2. Maintain a permanent military presence in Europe. Many consider our military bases in Europe to be expensive relics of the Cold War, but they remain invaluable assets in enabling us to react quickly to unexpected developments in some of the hottest spots in the world: the Middle East and North Africa.

If needed, American force based in Europe can be brought to bear anywhere in the region — from Libya to Syria and beyond — in a matter of hours. And if sustained action is required, these bases facilitate the flow of supplies to our troops in the field.

In addition, the ability to evacuate our wounded to prime medical facilities on our German bases has saved countless lives throughout the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Even when no "hot" wars are underway, the mere presence of American force in Europe has a stabilizing influence on a highly volatile region. It not only reduces the chances of terrorist successes in the region, it gives bad actors — be they hostile states or nonstate powers — cause to think twice before putting high-stakes schemes into operation.

3. Don't waste money on biofuels. The Navy is under orders to use biofuels — not because this makes our war ships run faster or more efficiently, but because "green" lawmakers are attempting to create yet another subsidy for the biofuel industry. But biofuels are several times more expensive than conventional fuels and far less efficient. A gallon of biofuel costs the Navy $26; a gallon of conventional fuel costs $3.60.

For lawmakers looking to save money, this should be a no-brainer. Defense spending should deliver a capable Navy, not a wasteful "green" Navy.

Advancing programs that counter growing threats, maintaining programs needed to respond to likely crises and cutting waste wherever possible — these are the keys to prudent defense funding.

Michaela Dodge is a defense and strategic policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation.