Rapid Response Interview: Mike Horowitz on National Security

Interview with PWH Associate Director, Mike Horowitz: Spending on National Security

Interview conducted by Laurie Jensen, PWH Program Coordinator, on Thursday, March 2, 2017.

Q: The White House just announced that it plans to increase defense-related spending by $54 billion for next year, and make cuts in other areas to make up the difference. A $54 billion increase equates to about a 10% increase in the defense budget overall. Can you tell us how you think President Trump will utilize these funds, where the money will be coming from, and whether a significant boost in defense spending equates to greater national security?

A (Mike): It is important to keep in mind that the budget proposed by the White House is really the opening bid in what is often a negotiation between the White House and Congress, as well as between different groups in Congress and different Executive Agencies. If an increase to the defense budget is approved, the impact on national security may depend on how the money is spent. Would more funds go to purchasing new and modern equipment for US military forces, for training to improve readiness, or other arenas? While the United States already spends more than much of the rest of the world combined on defense, more funding could help the Army and Navy, in particular, fund key modernization programs. The readiness of US forces is a key challenge right now, however, that risks undermining the overall effectiveness of the U.S. military. Allocating a healthy amount of increased defense spending to military readiness could help ensure that the U.S. military does not just have the best people and equipment in the world, but is already prepared to fight.

Where money for increased defense spending comes from represents a significant issue. Public reporting suggests that the Trump Administration will pay for increase defense spending by cutting funding for the State Department and foreign aid programs, among other cuts. One issue is that there may not be enough money to pay for defense spending increases just by cutting the State Department and foreign aid. The entire State Department budget is only about $50 billion, after all. And the United States military has traditionally been a strong supporter of robust State Department funding. Back when Defense Secretary Mattis was General Mattis, he said “If you don't fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.”

Q: H.R. McMaster was named the new National Security Advisor on February 20. What does this choice tell us about President Trump’s national security strategy moving forward? Have we gotten a sense of what McMaster’s priorities are for the short and long term?

A (Mike): H.R. McMaster is not just a great warrior, but a great scholar. He is one of the leading national security intellectuals of his generation. His public statements on US national security strategy suggest he holds a mainstream, but somewhat hawkish, perspective on America’s role in the world, consistent with many in the broader U.S. national security establishment. We do not know much yet about McMaster’s priorities as National Security Adviser. He has moved relatively quickly, however, to shape the NSC staff. He has reportedly eliminated two new deputy assistant slots on the NSC staff created by his predecessor, Retired Army Lt. General Michael Flynn. Continuing an appointment apparently initiated prior to Flynn’s departure, McMaster’s NSC staff just added Fiona Hill, a Russia expert at the Brookings Institution, as the NSC staff’s senior director for Europe and Russia. News of Hill’s appointment has received bipartisan support over the last day from former Obama administration officials as well as Republicans. These moves suggest that McMaster is attempting to create an NSC process closer to that featured in the last few administration’s, but it is too soon to tell in many ways.