A V-22 Osprey in action.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- For lawmakers on the hunt for budget savings, the Pentagon's $500 billion budget is a great place to start.
That's the message from the progressive Institute for Policy Studies, which argues that the United States spends far too much money on fancy military toys, and not enough on the soft power of diplomacy.
Security spending is currently divided among many agencies -- the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon and State Department to name a few -- in a way that creates a fragmented and unbalanced approach to defense, the report says.
"We need a budget process that looks at our security challenges as a whole, and allocates resources in a way that matches the lip service everyone in government pays to the co-equal importance of military and non-military tools," Miriam Pemberton, a research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, said Thursday in a statement.
By taking a holistic approach, $80 billion could be slashed from the $553 billion the Pentagon has requested for 2012, the authors say. Expensive projects ill-suited for today's wars -- like missile defense and the V-22 Osprey -- would be cut.
Meanwhile, the group would increase spending on State Department and USAID efforts abroad, while keeping Homeland Security spending at the level requested by the president.
The substantial cuts to the military, even with targeted budget increases elsewhere, result in net savings of $50 billion.
"We've done cuts like this before," said Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration and a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. "And we did win the Cold War. And our military got to Baghdad in three weeks."
Since 2001, total defense spending has just about doubled and now represents about 20% of the entire federal budget.
Korb, who worked on the report, said defense spending has increased in real terms every single year since 1998. Even during the height of the Cold War, the Pentagon's budget never increased for more than seven consecutive years.
But with lawmakers in a tizzy over spending cuts, the gravy train might finally be running out of steam.
On Wednesday, President Obama, who wants to cut $400 billion in security spending over the next decade, said as much.
"I, as Commander-in-Chief, have to have difficult conversations with the Pentagon, saying, 'you know what, there's fat here; we're going to have to trim it out,' " he said.
This is a good time to do it. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a fierce defender of Pentagon funds, has been replaced by CIA chief Leon Panetta.
And lawmakers are locked in a battle over raising the debt ceiling. Republicans are demanding large cuts in domestic spending, and the Pentagon budget is thought to be on the table as well.
Plus, the military itself is currently rethinking how it fights wars -- and its mission for the future.
"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined," Gates said in February.
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