The failure of the congressional “super committee” to forge a deficit reduction deal in November will result in $1.2 billion of automatic spending cuts over 10 years to be applied to all federal spending, including defense. About half of the total cuts are to come from defense, so this seems to be a good time for a Diogenene examination of what we spend for our military.
The numbers that emerge for defense spending vary slightly based on how the question is asked. Budget numbers may or may not include the Iraq and Afghanistan war funding, foreign military aid, and black (secret) operations. In addition, intelligence services and the Department of Homeland Security are not included in most defense spending totals. The U.S. Department of Defense had a 2011 budget allocation of about $707 billion (excluding veterans affairs), roughly 20% of all federal expenditures. The next largest military budget in the world was China’s, but the U.S. spent six times as much, as the following chart from 2008 shows. Why do we constitute such a large percentage of the world’s military spending?
Most of what the Pentagon buys is “Made in America” at what are probably the highest prices in the world. As with consumer goods, we could probably buy most things cheaper at Wal-Mart because they would be made in China, but security concerns require American suppliers for most items large and small. Also, it is cheaper to copy existing products than to develop your own. Our weapons philosophy is to create military superiority instead of just capability. China has recently developed its first aircraft carrier, its first stealth fighter, and is deploying its own GPS system to be able to use “smart bombs”, all of which seek to achieve parity with U.S. weapons systems.
The procurement process is subject to multiple review layers. New project contracts are awarded on a cost plus profit system, so the profit risk for defense contractors isn’t whether they will make money on a project, but whether they are allowed to work on it. There is disincentive for them to limit costs when their company profit is tacked on to total expenses. Some of these companies are quite large, and view themselves more as “partners” than suppliers of the military. In his farewell address in 1961, President Eisenhower warned us of the “military industrial complex” which has long since intertwined itself with Congress and has made defense spending somewhat akin to public works projects. When the Defense Secretary Rumsfeld proposed shutting down about 180 bases and facilities in the US in 2005, it prompted uproars from every Congressman whose constituency was affected. Base closings represent a high-stakes political fight, because they affect jobs in congressional districts. When a U.S. military installation shuts down, its officers and their families are uprooted and relocated to facilities elsewhere, leaving holes in customer bases of local businesses. We also have many massive systems like the F-22 Raptor (at $150 million each) which feature marvelous stealth technology but are so costly that in the last 3 wars the fighters have been deemed too sophisticated to risk losing any (of the 187 built) in actual combat operations.
On a recent Republican Presidential Debate, Ron Paul stated that we have over 900 foreign military bases in over 130 countries. Diogenes verified that the statement is true, or even understated, depending on how one defines a US Military base. Many are neither owned nor leased to the US, but are maintained either by contractors or the host government and therefore are not technically in the total. There are also an unknown number of “black” bases. Although the foreign bases are expensive, they allow the US to project military power across the globe by providing the following benefits:
- allow the stationing of US troops overseas
- serve as launch platforms for military maneuvers
- provide forward storage for supplies and munitions, including nuclear arms
- provide training grounds, weapons testing and target range facilities, including for nuclear weapons
21st Century America projects its power not with colonies, but with military bases. We are hosted by foreign governments, and we keep soldiers in every corner of the world in order to be able to fight two wars at a time. (The two current threats considered most likely to occur are a land war with North Korea and action against Iran in the Strait of Hormuz.) In some countries such as Egypt, where the US provides $1.3 billion/year to essentially fund the entire military, we use such “soft power” to maintain our influence. Does this sound like imperialism or defense to you? Imperialism, as defined by Dictionary of Human Geography, is “the creation and/or maintenance of an unequal economic, cultural, and territorial relationship, usually between states and often in the form of an empire based on domination and subordination.” The projection of American military power since WWII has generally ensured global peace and prosperity. Because no other country does what we do, would the end of a “Pax Americana” result in a more unsafe and unstable world?
America has 75,000 troops in Germany, 40,000 in South Korea, 40,000 in Japan, and another 41,000 in the rest of Europe (mostly Italy). So essentially, the US keeps huge permanent garrisons wherever we have won previous wars. Thank goodness we really didn’t “win” in Iraq or Afghanistan, or we would have to support 100,000 troops there for another 70 years! One cannot help but question the need for a large troop deployment in Europe. Do we expect Russia to invade the West, and if so, why don’t the Europeans defend themselves?
A new staffing plan to be presented next month calls for army troop reductions of 80,000 soldiers even as the number of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, drones) will be increased. It foresees the deployment of more special ops teams from small “lily pad” bases around the world, and floating drone bases that could yield a a more lethal, though smaller military. Defense Secretary Panetta has previewed a new $525 billion 2013 budget plan that would cut $487 billion from defense spending over the next decade. Diogenes examined the growth of defense spending since the 9/11 attacks and compared the data to growth of all other spending and to the CPI, and learned that military spending has gown much faster than either inflation or all other spending, including entitlements.
In asking Congress to declare war against Germany in April 1917, Woodrow Wilson stated that his goal was to “make the world safe for democracy.” But what level of defense spending is appropriate for making the world safe for our democracy, and what level of spending is really imperialism? Is imperialism de facto a bad thing? Does our projection of military power decrease the safety of Americans by presenting the belligerent face of of an angry cop to the rest of the world and thus make our citizens targets of their hatred? Should we maintain the current doctrine of being sufficiently manned and equipped to be capable of fighting two wars simultaneously? Do we need to have nation building capacity? It doesn’t seem to have worked out for us in Iraq or Afghanistan. But it did work in Germany, Japan and Korea. What do you think?