Being Right: A Maligned Budget



Alan He

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the United States defense budget has gone from sacrosanct to a “sacred cow” in the eyes of liberal democrats and fiscal hawks. To bolster their arguments, liberals like to cite the fact that U.S. military spending represents 48 percent of total world military spending, while fiscal conservatives such as Dick Armey cite “dramatic increases in appropriations” as evidence that resources are being spent imprudently. The defense budget is, quite literally, a hostage to deficit reduction. The Sword of Damocles hangs over the defense budget, in the form of automatic, across the board cuts, should the Congressional Super Committee fail to find 1.5 trillion in spending cuts. These drastic measures and views threaten to take us through a feast to famine cycle that endangers our national security, our troops and our prosperity.

After a decade of war, much of the basic equipment used by the armed forces, originally de­signed for use in Europe, has been worn out by constant use and by the harsh desert. For perspec­tive, it’s worth noting that it will cost an estimated $25 billion alone to “reset” just the Army’s worn out equipment. Since Defense Secretary Robert Gates replaced Donald Rumsfeld in 2006, more money has been spent on high tech drones and mine resistant vehicles, both of which are necessary to save lives in the current conflict, but come at the expense of modernizing planes, ships and tanks. Even discounting the toll of the current conflicts, our weapon platforms are, for lack of a better word, geriatric. Some systems like the B-52 bomber and the KC-135 Strategic Tanker entered service in the mid 50’s, before our parents were born. Many of our ships, tanks and helicopters entered ser­vice 30 years ago in the early 80s and have reached the end of their useful life. That doesn’t even take into account the time, years to decades in some cases, to develop such weapons. Given the time it takes to develop these platforms, much less bring them to field, it would be incredibly shortsighted to starve the programs that will provide long lasting replacements for aging platforms.

Our high defense budget reflects a covenant between Amer­ica and its soldiers: if our democracy sends its young people in harm’s way, those men and women will have the best equip­ment. Historically, this wasn’t always the case. Consider the fact that the United States lost over 58,000 soldiers and 2,251 aircrafts during the course of the Vietnam War. In conflicts such as World War II, American tanks were always outclassed by German ones, and only won through superior numbers. During the first Gulf War, many Pentagon analysts predicted that Allied casualties would exceed 10,000, killed or wounded, in the fight against the fourth largest military in the world. In­stead, U.S. losses totaled 148 killed (too many), but far below estimates. The only thing that can account for the relatively low loss of life was the “bloated” and maligned Reagan defense budget of the 1980s that allowed for the mass procurement of high tech weapons. Like many investments and insurances, the defense budget seems egregiously expensive until it is actually necessary. And speaking of covenants, there is one proposed target that shouldn’t even be on the table, and that is the $100 billion a year spent on military pensions and healthcare.

It’s important to point out that the military succeeds, for various reasons, where our politicians and where free markets often fail, namely in preparing for the future. The military understands that failing to invest in the future is literally a case of a life saved or lost. One reason the Army invests in alternative energy is because on average, one American soldier died in every 24th fuel convoy in Afghanistan, and in every 38th fuel resupply mission in Iraq. Past defense budgets and taxpayers have paid for the development and advancement of most of the things that we enjoy today from computers, the internet, GPS, airplanes, satellites, etc. When these inventions were uneconomical to private companies, military necessity funded their research and development.

The fact is that over the next several years, the defense budget will naturally decrease by hun­dreds of billions as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq wind down. Any deficit reduction solution should start at the root of the problem, revenues and entitlements.

Contact Alan He at [email protected]