There’s good reason to wonder if the debt ceiling deal will result in significant defense cuts, as the current arrangement is sufficiently ambiguous to still allow some slow growth. Nevertheless, I think that even this will be sufficient to produce some interesting politics within the military spending constituency:
Ideally, cuts to defense will reflect a careful, rational approach to maintaining the military means for accomplishing America’s foreign policy ends. The major players would debate and evaluate the grand strategic rationale for American military power and develop a somewhat more modest political framework for the Department of Defense.
In the real world, actual defense cuts will result in bitter bureaucratic infighting and interest group mobilization in support of particular systems and programs. While service amity in the United States has managed to hold across several previous rounds of defense cuts, most notably during the post-Vietnam and post-Cold War drawdowns, there are some indications that this set of cuts may shatter the norm of collaboration that has developed between the military services.
Unfortunately, the result of this intra-constituency battle will likely be messy. Programs that lack a rationale will survive, while weapons that lack an interest group will die. The connection between means and ends will be lost, because no specific constituency has a vested interest in a rational consideration of foreign policy values or the capacity to consider value trade-offs. Little consideration will likely be given to the notion of a meaningful drawdown of U.S. military commitments, resulting in a force even more badly overstretched.