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Report criticizes Pentagon budget priorities

WASHINGTON—Congress should cut $62 billion out of Cold War weapons programs and shift most of that money to homeland security, efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and diplomatic measures that better address current national security needs, a new report concludes.

The report, issued Wednesday by the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States, singles out such programs as the F-22 stealth fighter jet, the Virginia-class submarine, the DD(X) destroyer, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the C-130J cargo plane as having "scant relevance to the threats we face" and recommends that they be eliminated or reduced significantly.

The group also recommends:

_Slashing the U.S. nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 600 operational warheads, while keeping another 400 in reserve.

_Eliminating the Trident II nuclear missile.

_Halting further deployment of a national ballistic-missile defense system, but maintaining a basic research program.

_Canceling further research into space-based weapons.

Other suggestions include slowing development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Army's Future Combat System and deactivating an Air Force fighter wing and a Navy aircraft-carrier battle group.

"What we actually need is a systematic, comprehensive examination of security spending and a search for the right balance of security tools," said Miriam Pemberton, of the research center Foreign Policy in Focus and a principal author of the task force's report. "Since nothing exists to spur this debate along, we have taken a crack at it."

The nonpartisan group is made up of defense and nonproliferation experts. Their report comes as Congress takes up consideration of President Bush's $439 billion request for defense spending for fiscal year 2007, which starts Oct. 1.

The group didn't look at the administration's supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It said that excluding war spending, the military budget will absorb six times as much money as all other nonmilitary security programs, including diplomacy, foreign aid, homeland security and efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It suggested that Congress shift money from military spending and double the amount spent on improving port security and providing more resources to firefighters, police and other first responders. It also proposed doubling the amount spent on nonproliferation efforts, foreign aid and other diplomatic programs. None of the money would come out of current war spending.

"It won't endanger our ability to prosecute whatever your current phrase is, the global war on terror or the long war. In fact, as we've pointed out, it will increase our ability to prevail in that struggle," said Lawrence J. Korb, a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration and another principal author of the study.

Even though defense spending has increased 27 percent since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, excluding nuclear weapons programs and war spending, the United States remains vulnerable because spending priorities don't reflect actual threats, the study argued.

For example, the Bush administration proposes to spend more next year on missile defense than it does on the Coast Guard, Korb said.

Missile defense is a system of interceptor missiles that would be fired at ballistic missiles that were attacking the United States. Many of its tests have failed, and critics say it isn't technologically feasible.

"We're in much greater danger of someone sneaking a weapon of mass destruction in at one of our ports than shooting it with a return address," Korb said.

Although the Sept. 11 commission concluded that "preventing terrorists from gaining access to weapons of mass destruction must be elevated above all other problems of national security," the Bush administration's plan to spend $1.3 billion for threat reduction and nonproliferation "falls far short of this standard," the study said.

U.S. nonproliferation efforts to safeguard nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union have been highly successful, Pemberton said. That program "just needs more money and the will to get the job done."

To read the report online, go to the Foreign Policy in Focus Web site at www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/3253

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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