Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has opened the door to a long-overdue conversation about not just the budget but also the mission of the U.S. military [“Gates warns about reducing military,” news story, May 25]. While Mr. Gates, who has proposed some modest cuts to Pentagon spending, seems interested mostly in staving off serious reductions, his remarks are more revealing regarding the things that we ask the military to do.

For example, Mr. Gates called the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a new class of nuclear submarines and a new fleet of in-flight refueling tankers “absolutely critical” for the nation’s defense. Actually they have nothing to do with defending the United States. They, like most of our weapons programs and force structure, are critical only to projecting our military might across the globe as no other country has ever done.  

A poll in January showed that a solid majority of the country prefers cuts to military spending over reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits as a means to reduce the deficit. I think that most Americans would consider Mr. Gates’s warning — “a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and be able to do fewer things” — a most welcome development.

Kevin Martin, Silver Spring

The writer is executive director of Peace Action.