- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Mike McGinn wrote a thoughtful letter in the Nov. 28 edition responding to my Nov. 14 letter on possible avenues of defense spending cuts. He took issue with how I presented budget figures and offered alternative comparisons of defense spending, harking back to other times when the national defense costs were higher: Korean War, Vietnam War. He also correctly asserted that inflation has skewed the data.
I cannot disagree with anything Mike McGinn wrote. He concluded: “That same watchful eye we turn on our Department of Defense needs to be turned on our federal government as a whole.” I couldn’t agree more.
However, my letter focused not on all government spending but looked at defense spending, since it will undoubtedly be attacked in the current debates over how to achieve a balanced budget. Defense spending — particularly the Navy component — is vital to this region. I offered an approach that could result in an increased role for the Navy in national defense and force projection abroad.
I noted that we have an extraordinary presence of military personnel stationed in Europe. I offered the opinion, shared by many, that we no longer should support what has become primarily a form of foreign aid to the countries of Europe. Europe is a much different place than it was in 1949 when NATO was established. According to the official NATO website, “the [NATO] Alliance’s creation was part of a broader effort to serve three purposes: deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration.” Those three purposes have been achieved: the Soviet threat is nonexistent; nationalist militarism is economically infeasible; and a United States of Europe (the European Union) grows stronger each day. Thus, we no longer need to station 100,000 troops in Europe. The cost savings from eliminating the troops in Europe would be at least $10 billion per year, saving $100 billion over a decade.
What I had hoped to stimulate with my letter was a discussion of whether or not we need to maintain those forces in Europe. I believe that pulling them out of Europe would have minimal impact on our national security. That is why I proposed that cuts in the defense budget should be linked to the drawdown in forces in Europe and confined to the related military personnel, and operations and maintenance accounts that are driven by those force levels in Europe.
This policy shift could increase our dependence on the Navy for quick response and force projection in global trouble spots. Increased emphasis on the Navy would be good for Southern Maryland — not a threat to the stability of the region as would be mindless across-the-board cuts to the military budget.
Let’s urge our politicians and the Pentagon to think outside the NATO box and make a serious policy shift that puts the Navy in a stronger, future-oriented role that anticipates and effectively neutralizes the real threats overseas, saving money in the process.
Aleck Loker, Williamsburg, Va.
The writer is a St. Mary’s County native who worked more than 30 years for the Navy at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the last three as executive director. He later served as director of economic development and county administrator for St. Mary’s County.