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Lexington: Terrible swift sword

IN THE summer of 2010 Admiral Mike Mullen, then still chairman of America’s joint chiefs of staff, said that the biggest security threat facing the nation was the national debt. The proposition that military strength depends in the long run on economic health is hardly controversial. But the admiral cannot have foreseen the astonishing sequence of budget negotiations that have paralysed Congress this past year. In the latest twist this week, Democrats and Republicans on Congress’s so-called “supercommittee” failed to agree on a plan to reduce the budget deficit, thereby exposing the defence budget to the prospect of a decade’s worth of deep spending cuts.The Budget Control Act that Congress passed in August stipulated that if the supercommittee failed, government spending would be cut automatically by some $1.2 trillion, with the axe falling most heavily on the Pentagon. Add this “sequestration” to the $350 billion of cuts already agreed on this summer, and the Defence Department is looking at losing up to $1 trillion, almost a fifth of the total, from its spending plans in the ten years from 2013. Leon Panetta,…

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