WASHINGTON - While headline claims of a Cold War resurgence are surely overstated, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine reminds Pentagon policymakers that their plans to shift U.S. military focus away from Europe may have to be tweaked.
Previously announced Pentagon spending cuts will still be included in the budget President Obama sends Congress on Tuesday. But they now face an even harder sell on Capitol Hill, where home-state interests and election-year politics often prevail along with a bipartisan predilection for bombast.
Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee, blamed Obama for having already cut projected Pentagon funding by $487 billion over 10 years.
“His disarming of America over the past five years limits our options in Ukraine today,” Inhofe said in a statement Monday.
Congress, however, has played a significant role in reducing military spending from its 2011 peak of $739 billion, a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to its current annual level of $613 billion.
Military funding cuts from Obama and lawmakers have come in response to rising federal debt, the end of U.S. combat in Iraq and the wind-down of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
The budget Obama will send Congress on Tuesday, in fact, seeks to restore $26 billion in deeper Pentagon spending reductions that Congress approved in a December deal by large bipartisan majorities, according to the Defense Department.
That budget deal, which funds the federal government through September 2015, replaced even steeper military funding decreases that lawmakers had imposed through sequestration.
Russia’s encroachment in Ukraine, unless it spreads to envelope the rest of the former Soviet republic, won’t by itself reverse the downward trend in U.S. military spending. But the aggression could affect where future reductions are applied.
With the post-9/11 focus on fighting terrorism, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of U.S. troops in Europe sank from 312,000 in 1988 to 69,000 in 2000.
There are now fewer than 66,000 U.S. troops in Europe, most of them in Germany, Italy and Britain.