Governments around the country are feeling the strain of budget pressures, and in Washington, at least, that strain is producing some strange alliances. Take Congressmen Ron Paul and Barney Frank: The libertarian Republican and the liberal Democrat co-wrote a piece for Huffington Post this past week that takes aim at a longtime budgetary sacred cow: U.S. military spending.
The unlikely pair want to trim the Pentagon's budget by $1 trillion over the next 10 years, significantly reducing U.S. military presence around the world, including Europe. Frank tells NPR's Lynn Neary that it's time the nation updated its military approach.
"This hangover from the Cold War, when America was seen as the superpower that had to protect everybody everywhere from everything, is outdated. In fact, it's often counterproductive." If America doesn't scale back its military footprint, Frank says, the price will be cutting domestic programs and increased taxes.
"That's what we're talking about," he says. "We're talking about, in particular, the overreach, the overview that America as a world power has this responsibility to protect military power everywhere — and it's enormously expensive."
Scaling Back America's Military Footprint
One target in Frank's sights: the U.S. military base in Okinawa. "We don't need 15,000 marines in Okinawa – they're a hangover from a war that ended 65 years ago. And Japan now ought to be able to defend itself."
Frank says U.S. sea and air power can deal with any threats from China, so having troops stationed nearby is unnecessary. "No one thinks you're going to land 15,000 Marines on the Chinese mainland to confront millions of Chinese military."
Same goes for Europe. "NATO was a great accomplishment 61 years ago," Frank points out. "I don't see why we need troops in Okinawa or why we need troops in Germany, why we need troops in Italy."
Some have argued that it's normal to position troops in ally countries. "Well, if that's the case, where are the Belgian troops in Arizona? Where are the French troops in South Dakota?"
Besides closing bases, Frank sees another place for major cost savings. "During the Cold War, we had three ways of destroying the Soviet Union with thermonuclear weapons," he says. "We had nuclear submarines; we had the intercontinental ballistic missile and the strategic air command."
These days, Russia's not the threat it used to be. Frank's proposal to the Pentagon is simple: "You know these three ways you have of destroying what's now Russia? Why don't you keep two and give up one? And save us tens of billions a year."
A Bipartisan Task Force
To look for more ways to trim the military budget, Frank set up a bipartisan commission. The Sustainable Defense Task Force includes people from the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute as well as "people with environmental and peace credentials," Frank says.
The task force has already proposed plans that it says would save $100 billion a year through military cuts. It's a proactive attempt to direct the attention of President Obama's deficit reduction commission.
"What Ron Paul and I are doing," Frank says, "is writing to them and saying, 'Don't just come to us and say we're going to raise taxes and we're going to limit Social Security and cut EPA, etc., etc. There needs to be proportional reductions in the military budget."
"And we are going to tell them that if they don't add that, we don't vote for their program."
The bipartisan nature of the task force suggests that support for Frank and Paul's proposals comes from all corners of the political spectrum. Frank is clear that he is willing to work with nearly anyone in this effort – even the Tea Party.
"There are always going to be points of common ground," he says, and budget cuts are one of the Tea Party's priorities. Frank says he may disagree with them on a number of things, but he'd welcome their support.
But trimming the military's budget might be as far as that bipartisan compact might go. What happens to any savings will be another matter. Frank says that's a debate for another day. Right now the objective is clear.
"If we aren't able to make those cuts in the military, then we are going to find pressures for taxes higher than Ron wants — and that I might even want — and for domestic cuts more than I want," he says.
"We would like to be able to save that money and then have that second debate."