12 June 2019

Trump, the budget and … the army

Claudiu Nebunu

Image source: Mediafax

Shortly after the delayed approval of the 2019 budget, Trump challenges the Congress with the 2020 budget. Cuts on Foreign Affairs, Health and Education, all for Defence, Internal Security and Commerce. The Wall at the border with Mexico, hidden through different funding. From the anti-terrorism fight to maintaining the global military supremacy, with China being the main competitor. After harsh criticism against the Intelligence Services, their funding increases in the new budget also.

Measures for defence or an offensive? Is this the start of the second Cold War, with three main characters? Or the battle for a wall (Mexican or Chinese)?

The 2020 fiscal year budget - more money for defence

Two weeks ago (12th of March), the White House has published Trump Administration’s calls for the 2020 fiscal year budget, including also an amount worth of $750 billion for Defence. Pentagon’s “part” would be $718 billion (wherefrom $544 billion- the basic budget, $165 billion for foreign operations costs and a $9 billion supplementary budget for emergency situations at the borders), with a 5% increase comparing to the budget approved by the Congress in the previous year. The rest of it ($32 billion) is dedicated to the Energy Department, for the maintenance and supply with fuel of the American nuclear arsenal and the ships and submarines reactors.

The substantiation of the 2020 budget mainly considers decreases of: 31% for the Environmental Protection Energy, 24% for Foreign Affairs and USAID, 19% for Transports, 16% for Urban Development, 15% for Agriculture, 14% for Home Affairs, 12$ for Health and Human Services, 12% for Education, 11% for Energy and increases, as follows: 5% for Defence, 7% for Commerce, 7% for Internal Security and 8% for Veterans.

Focusing the budgetary process on Defence, it should be noted that, although the proposal for the 2020 budget is an important increase comparing to 2019, it is not the same as the “jump” demanded by Trump for 2018, where the costs for defence have increased with 10,4% (to $700 billion, from 634 in 2017). During a visit made at the Pentagon, in the midst of January, Trump underlined: “I gave you the biggest budget in our history (2018)… and now I am doing it for the second time (2019)… and I am close to doing it again (2020)!”.

A pleased surprise for the militaries, given that, last year, President Trump has declaratively oscillated between increasing the funds for defence and decreasing them.

Why are military costs increasing?

At the beginning of the year (19th of  January), the American Secretary of Defence has presented a new National Defence Strategy, underlining that US has shifted its attention from countering terrorism towards maintaining the global military supremacy.

What’s with this change? The American technological superiority, used to maintain the military supremacy, has started to be undermined by Russia and China, which have made some notable progresses in developing technologies that could be used in the military field (like the hypersonic one). You can find further details about the implementation of this strategy through the 2019 Defence budget in the DSM analysis.

The new strategy can be noticed also in the fundament of the 2020 budget, as the amount demanded by the Defence Department is reasoned by the necessity to counter the growing threats coming from Russia and China.

In a hearing in front of Senate’s Armed Forces Commission, the (interim) Secretary of Defence,  Patrick M. Shanahan, has presented a summary of the budgetary needs for the competition with Russia and China. The development of hypersonic weapons, defence system’s improvement against missile and the modernization of the nuclear triad needs large amounts from the budget. Also, for the foundation of the Spatial Forces it is necessary a two numbers-based percentage from the entire budget.

Shanahan also underlined that the ”amounts spent by Beijing for defence are close to US’s ones […]. This, along with the organized foreign technology theft, have allowed China modernize its missile, spatial and cyber capabilities and, also, to project its power beyond the borders”.  Also, Russia continues to compete with the US through the modernization and development of the same capabilities categories.

In the same circumstances, the president of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joe Dunford, has transmitted the senators that the development of these capabilities by Russia and China are limiting US’s capacity to freely act in space, cyber-space, land, sea and air. “The demands of the 2020 budget document were realistically created to allow us to project our power when and where it is necessary for protecting our own interests, given the growing Chinese and Russian threats”, underlined Dunford.

The bone of contention- “the War fund”

A significant change in this budget document, which has also generated complaints, is the massive increase of the controversial “war fund” (the amount allocated for the Overseas Contingency Operations- OCO, whose limits are not controlled by the Congress), from $69 to $165 billion ($156 billion for 2021, followed by a $20 billion decrease in 2022 and 2023, then with $10 billion by 2024).

The so-called “emergency footlocker” could reach values alike the ones during the Iraq intervention… However, it is all depending on…or, more correctly, it is in Congress’s hands (“hands” are voting…!).

Before publishing the project, some democrats have called on Trump’s possible intention to use the OCO mechanism to elude budget’s limits. “If true, this is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make a mockery of the federal budget process, obscure the true cost of military operations, and severely shortchange other investments vital to our national and economic security” stated the Commissions’ Presidents of Representatives Chamber for Armed Forces, Adam Smith, and for the Budget, John Yarmuth, in a press release about the OCO funding increase reports.

On the other hand, the republicans are supporting (of course…!) White House’s approach: the Republican senator James Inhofe, the president of the Armed Forces Commission from the Senate has openly stated that he is for the war budget increase.

As for budget’s structure that has a few numbers…

If the budget for 2020 would have been approved in its effective version, the funds for the State Department and the International Development Agency would be worth of $42.8 billion, comparing to $55.8 billion the Congress gave for 2019. The budget allocates $66.7 billion for the operations developed abroad (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia etc.), 3% less than the last year. As for Afghanistan, the amount remains the same, $18,6 billion ($18.5 billion in 2019). The American financial contribution to the international coalition against the Jihadist group Islamic State has decreased with 22%,  to $6,9 billion.

The Army Forces will receive $191 billion for investments in new weaponry systems. The funds dedicated to spatial field are increasing with 15%, to $14,1 billion, especially to fund the “Spatial Forces”. The cyber security will have a more than $9,6 billion budget (+10%).

The Air Forces will receive eight modern F-15 fight aircrafts, as well as other F-35 aircrafts. The Naval Forces aim at giving up the resource extension for the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier, in return for two Gerald Ford aircraft carriers.

The cots for research and development could be “the highest in the last 70 years”, according to Pentagon: $3, 7 billion for an unmanned warship, a submarine drone and autonomous logistic platforms; $ 927 for artificial intelligence, $2,6 for the new hypersonic missiles and $235 million for laser weapons.

In the proposal for the 2020 budget, the Pentagon foresees major military exercises abroad, including the “Europe Defence 20”. However, the “European Deterrence Initiative” funds will be decreased with 10%, to $5,9 billion. Asked during the press conference held at the Pentagon (12th March) if the funding decrease means that the US does not see Russia anymore as a major threat for the region, Elain McCusker, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Budget Defence, answered: “What you saw last year as pretty significant investment in EDI. And part of that was to posture ourselves and our equipment in that theater. We are now moving into our exercises and the other things that we do in that account, with the [military construction] and positioning done. And we’re also looking at increased burden sharing.”

And, why not, it is also foreseen a 3,1% increase (not the inflation rate) of the Army Forces personnel salaries ($2, 1 million), which would be the greatest increase in the last decade.


A few days after publishing the new National Security Strategy, the director for the National Intelligence Community, Daniel R. Coats was presenting the new National Intelligence strategy (a DSM analysis on this matter here), concluding: “We must become more agile, more able, more creative!”. The fourth document issued since department’s foundation “Office of the Director of National Intelligence”, in 2005, the strategy offers the 17 departments and intelligence agencies, members of the Community, the strategic direction lines for the years to come. The funds allocated to American intelligence could reach almost $86 billion, a 6% increase, covering the operation costs of the espionage satellites, the creation of cyber spaces weapons, but also the spies and informers systems of the CIA.

The Pentagon will have $22, 95 billion for intelligence operations, a $2, 25 increase comparing to last year. The almost $23 billion for the Military Intelligence Program/MIP includes also the funds dedicated to Pentagon, but also the special budget for OCO.

Why this chapter? In order to not forget president Trump’s complaints against the Intelligence Community! A DSM analysis in this matter here.

Where are the “China, China, China”! concerns coming from…

The proposal for the Pentagon 2020 budget comes from the national security threats the (interim) Secretary of Defence, Patrick Shanahan, resumed in three words: “China, China, China”.

Washington is still involved in fights, however limited, against the Islamic extremists, Russia remains a serious threat, but Shanahan wants to focus the militaries on what he considers to be the biggest threat of the moment- the quick increase of the Chinese military capabilities. Shanahan is the first Chief of Defence who has great concerns about China. “We have been ignoring the problem for too long. China is aggressively modernizing its military, systematically stealing science and technology, and seeking military advantage through a strategy of military-civil fusion”, underlined Shanahan before the hearing in front of the Senate Commission.

General Thomas Waldhauser, the commander of the US troops in Africa, has stated, last month, that many African chiefs of states were invited to Beijing to analyze the Chinese investments concerns in those countries, especially in the transports systems related to ore exploitations. Also, the US troops’ commander from Europe, General Curtis Scaparrotti, has stated, in front of the Congress, that Beijing is looking to “ensure its access to geographical objectives and strategic economic sectors through financial methods, targeting ports, aeronautics companies, hotels and services suppliers through capital investments in order to strengthen the European economies” (a DSM analysis about China’s interference in Europe here).

Indeed, other analysts think that Shanahan and the Pentagon have “exaggerated” the Chinese danger, because, first of all, the competition with China would be rather economic than military.

Instead of conclusions…

Pentagon’s budget is almost 17 times bigger than the one allocated for the US State Department. The Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, showed himself (Tuesday, 12th of March) “fully convinced to have enough resources” to accomplish his mission.

However, many Generals in reserve or retreating General have protested through an opened letter against the diplomacy’s budget decrease. “We know the army cannot keep our country safe by itself”, are underlining letter’s signatories, who have added that diplomacy and development are essential to counter threats, before letting them affect the US.

The American President wants to increase Pentagon’s budget, to get funds to build the wall at the border with Mexico, at the same time distributing less financial resources for diplomacy. This article’s objective is not the analysis of wall’s construction, and, probably, it is neither the problem which raised so many critics…

The issue is China… There is no doubt that Beijing is making concerning progresses on a large military-based modernization fields. Trump’s first two budgets were not firstly focused on this reality. However, the third one seems to go against the Chinese challenge.

Besides (or concurrently with) the main directions of the Defence funds mentioned in the 2020 budget document: research, development, modernization, supersonic weapons, last generation aircrafts, intelligence and new aircraft carriers… the question is: “Peace or war”? Lately, each American president had his own war. Is Trump looking for one? Follow his Tweeter…

As reasoned in the 2020 budget document (focused on Defence), there are two possible scenarios: (1) A new cold war, this time with three main characters, or (2) an opened conflict, optionally, whether the Mexican Wall, or the Chinese Wall.

Translated by Andreea Soare