Niskanen Center’s Matthew Fay looks at the prospects for letting the National Guard and the Army reserves play a bigger part in America’s defense structure. It’s an idea that makes sense.
[T]he Guard and reserves have proven themselves capable of handling combat duty during over a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, therefore those forces can be relied on for emergency contingencies at a much lower cost. Cindy Williams of MIT made the same suggestion in a 2013essay for Foreign Affairs offering recommendations for how the military might cope with sequestration. Williams also suggests that, while the active-duty Army will certainly protests, the political clout of the National Guard will make such a transition more palatable for a secretary of defense who might propose it.
Were the United States still worried that the Red Army was going to pour through the Fulda Gap and into Western Europe, it might make sense to maintain a large peacetime Army. “Might” is the key word in that sentence, because even during the Cold War, the United States did not attempt to even remotely match Warsaw Pact ground forces in Europe in number of personnel.
Today it makes even less sense to maintain a large ground forces. The most important potential threat to the United States lies in the maritime domains of the Western Pacific and East Asian littoral. If the U.S. government insists on maintaining its current position in those regions, deterring those threats will mostly fall to air and naval forces. Even if the Pentagon manages to reform the way it buys weapons, those capabilities will remain expensive. As personnel costs continue to rise, it crowds out funding to procure new weapons and modernize those forces.
The Army, as the service most reliant on manpower, is already scheduled to reduce its number of active duty personnel to 420,000 by 2019. The force should be cut even deeper with a large number of personnel shifted to the Guard and reserve. Advocates of increased defense spending believe the burden for covering the costs of modernizing the U.S. military’s capabilities should be shifted to American taxpayers. To make room in the defense budget they should instead be looking to the type of “radical” solution Navarro offers.