By Sara Sorcher and Stacy Kaper
The two-year budget deal is a positive development in the eyes of many defense watchers.
It is expected to mitigate about half the sequester cuts expected to gouge the defense budget in fiscal year 2014.
The agreement, announced Tuesday night by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray ( D-Wash.) and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), would provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, split evenly between defense and nondefense programs. By some simple math, that leaves some $31.5 billion in sequester relief for defense over the two-year period.
The Pentagon was facing a roughly $52 billion cut from its $527 billion request in fiscal year 2014. Now, the budget agreement says defense discretionary spending would be set at $520.5 billion that year. That figure presumably includes the Department of Energy's nuclear-weapons programs, meaning the department will likely be working with closer to a half-trillion-dollars in funding in fiscal 2014 -- and, to do so, it has front-loaded most of the newfound sequester relief.
"This is a positive outcome for the military and in particular, for the defense industry," Lexington Institute Chief Operating Officer Loren Thompson told National Journal, "because it means the president's request for the Pentagon would only be cut by about 5 percent, where the caps would have put it $52 billion lower. What the sequester relief does is, in effect, reduce the cut to the Pentagon's base budget in half."
While the agreement doesn't stave off sequestration's impact on defense completely, Senate Armed Services Committee member John McCain (R-Ariz.) said "it softens it." He confirmed that the sequester relief is "much more" in the first year of the two-year deal.
The implication of this uneven distribution in sequester relief means that fiscal year 2015 will see less extra money to play around with from this deal.
Thompson, however, cautions, "We shouldn't assume any of these agreements mean much beyond the year in which they are passed -- the 2014 number is the one that really matters. Who knows what will happen beyond the election?"
The Japanese government on Wednesday said the country should boost its defense capabilities and be willing to be more militarily active abroad.
The draft of a new national security strategy released by the Shinzo Abe administration urged fostering a tighter military relationship with the United States and improving Japan's missile-defense capabilities, the New York Times reported. The panel of Abe-selected experts who wrote the new strategy said a more-capable military was needed in order to respond to the rising danger posed by North Korea's nuclear work, as well as China's recent "intrusions" into maritime territory over which Tokyo also claims sovereignty.
Abe's cabinet is anticipated to approve the draft national security strategy -- as well as a new defense policy -- next week, according to Japanese media reports.
Under Japan's current interpretation of its post-World War II constitution, it is only allowed to use military force defensively. The hawkish Abe administration, though, wants to expand the number of scenarios under which the Japanese military can use force, such as in case of a North Korean missile attack on U.S. bases in Guam where Japanese missile interceptors might be used to neutralize the threat.
"North Korea has repeated conduct that heightens regional tensions," the draft guidelines said. "Its nuclear and missile development ... represent a grave and imminent threat to our country's security."
The not-yet-finalized security strategy also recommends that Tokyo relax its ban on weapons exports.
Recalling Japanese actions during World War II, both South Korea and China are leery of moves by Tokyo to adopt a more assertive regional military presence.
By Stacy Kaper
John Kerry came to Congress on Tuesday touting a new nuclear accord with Iran and asking members for their support. He didn’t get it.
In the Obama administration’s first big public foray on Capitol Hill since the interim deal with Iran was announced last month, the secretary of State was met with skepticism from members of both parties who worried that the deal was too lenient to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon.
“I keep reading about the resolve of Iranians to get this nuclear program done, and quite frankly I just don’t know if this diplomatic effort on their behalf is really serious,” Representative Albio Sires (D-N.J.) told Kerry at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Kerry always faced long odds on getting support, even from Democrats, and especially in the House. Legislation slapping additional sanctions on Iran already passed the chamber with overwhelming backing this summer. And those House members who are up for reelection next year -- and have already voted -- face little risk in continuing to press for sanctions against a second-term president whose popularity has waned.
And so attack they did. The critics’ main contention is that the agreement offers Iran too much sanctions relief in exchange for provisions that will do little to stifle Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Foreign Affairs panel members took turns demanding that Kerry explain why, at a minimum, Iran should not be required to halt all of its uranium enrichment while negotiations on a comprehensive agreement continue.
“If there are six [United Nations] Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to stop enriching, the least they could do is stop enriching while we are negotiating,” said the committee’s ranking member, Representative Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.). “I don’t really think that is too much to ask, and that is one of the things that bothers me greatly.”
“I believe we need to keep sanction pressure on Iran and that the pressure’s strength will actually strengthen your hand,” Engel told Kerry. “How can the U.S. send the message to Iran that there will be dire consequences if the interim deal does not come to fruition?”
Kerry acknowledged that the language of the interim agreement is “silent” on the long-term question of enrichment, neither expressly allowing it nor banning it, and that the issue will have to be worked out in a “mutually defined agreement” going forward.
He argued that Iran wanted all sanctions to cease in exchange for halting enrichment and made the case that the U.S. comes out ahead because Iran will eliminate its entire stockpile of uranium enriched at 20 percent, considered to be the most dangerous, and halt enrichment above 5 percent. In exchange, Iran will receive only $7 billion in sanctions relief during the six-month window to work out a comprehensive deal -- a detail many members openly doubted.
Kerry’s main point is that the U.S. is winning unprecedented access to Iran’s uranium mining facilities and mills, centrifuge workshops, and storage facilities at little cost.
“We are building the capacity to know exactly what is going on here in an unprecedented fashion,” he said. “Has Iran changed its nuclear calculus? I honestly don’t think we can say for sure yet.” He also said the initial agreement allows time for a better long-term deal. “We are asking you to give our negotiators and our experts the time and the space needed to do their jobs,” he said.
Kerry’s campaign now turns to the Senate, where he’ll address the full chamber Wednesday alongside Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew. On Thursday, the State Department’s Wendy Sherman and Treasury’s David Cohen are scheduled to discuss the Iran deal with the Senate Banking Committee and to plead for a pause in sanctions.
While there are signs key senators are amenable to his position -- the ever-cautious Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) told reporters Tuesday that he is “inclined” to support Kerry -- the secretary of State still faces an uphill climb.
Members from both parties are exploring legislation to keep the sanctions in place.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told reporters on Tuesday he remains unconvinced of the administration’s arguments and expects bipartisan sanctions legislation to proceed.
“I respectfully disagree with the administration,” he said. “We have been in the path in other iterations in which we have been told that sanctions was not an appropriate vehicle or time and we found that it was. And we believe it is now. ... We are pushing forward in getting legislation together.”
Two other sanctions supporters, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Christopher Coons (D-Del.), declined on Tuesday to discuss where they stand on the issue.
A senior Senate aide said that the administration’s overdrive seems to be creating a chilling effect in the chamber. “The White House has redoubled its efforts behind the scenes to maximize pressure on Senate Democrats to block a vote on basically any legislation that has the word sanctions in it, regardless of what it does or doesn’t do. Unlike the Republican side, the Democratic caucus is clearly very divided.”
Senator Angus King (I-Maine) told National Journal Daily, “My sense is that the impulse to do additional sanctions at this time may be diminishing some.”
A U.S. plan to neutralize Syrian chemical-warfare materials at sea is raising security and environmental concerns, the Washington Times reported on Tuesday.
The United States last week unveiled a proposal to chemically eliminate "hundreds of tons" of Syrian chemical-arms ingredients in the Mediterranean Sea, using destruction gear placed on one of its transport vessels. Syrian President Bashar Assad admitted to stockpiling chemical arms and assented to their destruction after an August nerve-gas attack raised the possibility of U.S. military intervention against his regime.
The Pentagon has said an at-sea destruction effort would pose little danger to people or the environment. But former U.N. biological-weapons auditor Raymond Zilinskas said there has been no formal threat evaluation for the proposal.
"We're all guessing" about its safety, he said. "You don’t know if there could be an accident and how you would handle it."
In addition, the chemical-weapons assets still face a potentially perilous transfer through areas contested in Syria's bloody civil war.
"The probability that rebels are going to attack is very high," Richard Lloyd, a Tesla Laboratories warhead specialist. "They want to get their hands on them."
After arriving in the coastal city of Latakia, the chemicals would be loaded on foreign ships for delivery to the U.S. chemical-destruction vessel at another country's seaport.
No country has yet agreed to temporarily host the materials as they are transferred from cargo ships to the MV Cape Ray, but Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic on Tuesday said his country might accept the duty, the Associated Press reported.
Milanovic warned, though, that the people of his country must first weigh in on the potential role.
"We can take part in the noble project, or we don't have to," he said. "But the Croatian public has to know what it's all about."
The South Korean military on Tuesday approved a plan to acquire three more Aegis antimissile destroyers, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Seoul's planned acquisition by 2027 of three additional warships equipped with the Lockheed Martin-developed missile defense technology accords with efforts to respond to the threat posed by North Korea's ongoing nuclear and ballistic-missile development.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Choi Yun-hee approved the $3.8 billion plan to produce the new Aegis ships over a four-year period beginning in 2023. The East Asian country already has three ships outfitted with the Aegis missile-tracking radar.
The South Korean navy requested the additional warships in 2012 to improve deterrence against Pyongyang. However, the planned weapons procurement grew in importance in recent months, as both Japan and China have moved to more actively assert their ownership claims over disputed islands, the Yonhap News Agency reported. South Korea plans to use the Aegis ships to carry out patrols of its new air defense identification zone.
What will be the future role of the European Parliaments and national Parliaments? What will be the next steps to complete the Economic and Monetary Union? What will be the key tasks for a new EU foreign policy? These are the questions that will be discussed during the next Brussels Think Tank Dialogue which will take place on 28 January 2014 in the EU’s capital.
Marian L. Tupy
It’s official: 2013 has been the Year of the Pope. The latest evidence? Time has named Francis its Person of the Year, noting that the pontiff, during his first nine months in office, “has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice, transparency, modernity, globalization, the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.” Indeed, the pope’s writings and public pronouncements reveal a deeply caring and passionate man who speaks from the heart. In Evangelii Gaudium, an “apostolic exhortation” released late last month, the pope bemoans inequality, poverty, and violence in the world.
“We’re living at a far more equal, peaceful, and prosperous time than the pontiff acknowledges.”
But here’s the problem: The dystopian world that Francis describes, without citing a single statistic, is at odds with reality. In appealing to our fears and pessimism, the pope fails to acknowledge the scope and rapidity of human accomplishment—whether measured through declining global inequality and violence, or growing prosperity and life expectancy.
The thesis of Evangelii Gaudium is simple: “unbridled” capitalism has enriched a few, but failed the poor. “We have to remember,” he writes, “that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences. A number of diseases are spreading. The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries. The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity.”
Just how free the free market really is today is debatable. The United States is perceived as the paragon of free-market capitalism. And yet over the last two decades, according to Wayne Cruise of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, Washington has issued 81,883 regulations—or nine per day. Maybe the marketplace should be regulated less, and maybe it should be regulated more. But unbridled it is not.
Moreover, the government redistributes some 40 percent of all wealth produced in America—up from 7 percent a century ago. Much of that wealth comes from the rich and pays for everything from defense and roads to healthcare and education, which are enjoyed by Americans from all income groups. The top 1 percent of income earners earned 19 percent of all income in 2010 and paid more than 38 percent of all income taxes. The top 10 percent paid more than 70 percent of all income taxes. Maybe the rich should contribute more, and maybe they should contribute less. But contribute they do—well in excess of the biblical tithe.
As for the negative consequences of “trickle-down” economics that the pope bemoans, let’s look at them in turn.
First, consider inequality. Academic researchers—from Xavier Sala-i-Martin of Columbia University, to Surjit Bhalla, formerly of the Brookings Institution and Rand Corporation, to Paolo Liberati of the University of Rome—all agree that global inequality is declining. That is because 2.6 billion people in China and India are richer than they used to be. Their economies are growing much faster than those of their Western counterparts, thus shrinking the income gap that opened at the dawn of industrialization in the 19th century, when the West took off and left much of the rest of the world behind.
Paradoxically, the shrinking of the global inequality gap was only possible after India and China abandoned their attempts to create equality through central planning. By allowing people to keep more of the money they earned, the Chinese and Indian governments incentivized people to create more wealth. Allowing inequality to increase at home, in other words, diminished inequality globally. And global inequality, surely, is the statistic that should most concern the leader of a global religion.
The graph below shows the narrowing gap between Chinese (orange) and global (red) incomes. As China embraced capitalism in the late 1970s, its economy started growing faster than the world average, making the world less unequal in the process. The figures in the graph are adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity (in other words, they take into account that the cost of identical goods—such as a pair of shoes or a pound of beef—may be significantly different in two countries, depending on the price of labor, land, capital, etc.)
Second, let’s look at poverty. According to the Brookings Institution researchers Laurence Chandy and Geoffrey Gertz, the “rise of emerging economies has led to a dramatic fall in global poverty.” The authors “estimate that between 2005 and 2010, the total number of poor people around the world fell by nearly half a billion, from over 1.3 billion in 2005 to under 900 million in 2010. Poverty reduction of this magnitude is unparalleled in history: never before have so many people been lifted out of poverty over such a brief period of time.”
If anything, the speed of human progress seems to be accelerating. As Charles Kenny of the Center for Global Development writes, “4.9 billion people—the considerable majority of the planet—[live] in countries where GDP has increased more than fivefold over 50 years. Those countries include India, with an economy nearly 10 times larger than it was in 1960, Indonesia (13 times), China (17 times), and Thailand (22 times larger than in 1960). Around 5.1 billion people live in countries where we know incomes have more than doubled since 1960, and 4.1 billion—well more than half the planet—live in countries where average incomes have tripled or more.”
The graph below shows the percentage of the population living on less than $1.25 a day in Bangladesh (orange), China (blue), Vietnam (purple), and India (green) beginning in the 1980s. The dollar figure is, again, adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity.
Third, consider violence. In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined—a book that spans 800 pages and millennia of human development—Steven Pinker of Harvard University documents a tremendous decline in global violence. According to Pinker, “Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse—all substantially down.”
Last, but not least, consider disease. Measles, polio, and cholera, which destroyed innumerable lives in the past, have been all but eradicated. The spread of HIV/AIDS has been checked by the increasing use of marvelous antiretroviral (ARV) therapies. Some 10 million people, mostly Africans, are being treated with ARVs—an intervention mostly financed by the West. Even cancer rates, which have increased together with life expectancy, are beginning to decline—at least in rich countries. Speaking of living longer, the average global life expectancy at birth hovered around 30 years from the Upper Paleolithic to 1900. Even in the richest countries, like those of Western Europe, life expectancy at the start of the 20th century rarely exceeded 50 years. Today, the average global life expectancy is 68 years.
Pope Francis has a big heart, but his credibility as a voice of justice and morality would be immeasurably improved if he based his statements on facts.Marian L. Tupy is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Liberty and Prosperity. He is the editor of HumanProgress.org
The 'New Pact for Europe' initiative has launched its first report on strategic options for the future of the European Union. The goal of the report is to foster a wider public debate on the EU’s future both at European and national level.