In a new Department of Defense report, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, predicted a flat or decreased National Defense budget citing the coronavirus pandemic as the cause. 

The report, which was released by the Pentagon today, shows the interconnectedness of the American economy and our national defense posture. According to General Milley, getting the U.S. economy back on track is the first step to meeting the threats posed by China and Russia. To do that, says Milley, we must first control the virus. 

“We have had a significant pandemic,” General Milley said to DoD News. “We’ve had… an economic situation nationally for almost going on [sic] a year now. We’ve got significant unemployment.”

Solving the issues at home is the first step to being able to fund our military, said Milley. The pandemic has uprooted our national budget and with billions of dollars on the table for a second coronavirus relief package, the money has to come from someplace. But General Milley’s position is resolute: You first attack the pandemic. “Once you do that then you can put additional money into a military,” says the general. 

But it’s a balancing act.

Operation Warp Speed announced today that 20 million vaccine doses could be ready for distribution within the month. Now, multiple companies have shown positive vaccine results and one, Pfizer, has been greenlit by the U.K. government with vaccination beginning in a matter of days, according to the AP

But even with the encouragement of a viable vaccine, Milley says that the defense budget will likely have to flatten or decrease. “I suspect that, at best, the Pentagon’s budgets will start flattening out,” he said. “There’s a reasonable prospect that they could actually decline significantly, depending on what happens in the environment.” 

There’s no doubt that a good chunk of the roughly $700 billion allocated to the DoD this fiscal year will be chewed up by overseas operations, but huge tranches of funding are needed simply to retain our military domination. The DoD has earmarked $56.9 billion for investments in the Air domain, $32.3 billion for the Maritime domain, and another $21.3 billion for munitions alone. Twenty-one billion is allocated for the restoration and building of facilities.