Defense expert: Senators blocked JBER cut with logic

The Army’s decision this week not to proceed with a planned troop cut at Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson is unusual. For at least the next year, Anchorage won’t have to face the economic hit it’s been expecting since the Army announced it would be part of a 40,000-soldier troop reduction last year. But there’s no relief for communities in the Lower 48 who were told they’d lose troops in the same decision.

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Michael O'Hanlon (Photo courtesy of the Brookings Institution)
Michael O’Hanlon (Photo courtesy of the Brookings Institution)

Michael O’Hanlon is a national security expert at the Brookings Institution and a former defense analyst at the Congressional Budget Office.

”To actually overturn a decision like this is fairly remarkable,” O’Hanlon said. “This is a pretty good job by the Alaska delegation, I have to say. I mean, I think they had a good argument on their side.”

O’Hanlon says the cut of 2,600 JBER troops , dismantling the 425 airborne brigade, never made much sense, in light of the Obama Administration’s plan to focus more on the Asia Pacific.

“I think it’s probably true that a lot of people had some input in this,” said O’Hanlon. “Not least, the senators from Alaska. But I think once the debate began, logic was on their side. And they did a good job of pointing out this apparent disconnect between the Asia-Pacific rebalance priority of the Obama administration with the proposed cut in the brigade in Alaska.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan used his position on the Senate Armed Services Committee to repeatedly raise that argument. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also in an influential position with a seat on the defense subcommittee of the Appropriations panel. The senators often discussed the cuts in the context of Russia’s Arctic build-up. O’Hanlon says he thinks those arguments were less persuasive than the 425’s ability to respond on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere in Asia.