Zbigniew Mazurak's Blog

A blog dedicated to defense issues

Rebuttal of 10 myths about defense spending

Posted by zbigniewmazurak on January 29, 2012


Several months ago, I published a blogpost refuting what I believe to be the 6 most common myths about defense spending. Since then, however, the opponents of a strong defense have intensified their efforts to mislead the American people about this subject, recycling old myths and inventing new ones, so I’ve decided to write this rebuttal of the 10 most common (as heard by me) myths about defense spending.

1) Myth: Defense spending is too high and bloated.

Fact: Defense spending is NOT “high” nor “bloated” by any honest stanard. The entire US military budget for FY2012 ($662 bn under the FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act, $633 bn under the FY2012 Defense Appropriations Act) amounts to just 19% of the total federal budget and a paltry 4.51% of GDP ($14.66 trillion according to the CIA World Factbook). Throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948, the US spent more on its military. The core defense budget, a $526 bn sum, amounts to less than 15% of the total federal budget and just 3.59% of GDP. Entitlements are by far the largest part of the federal budget, consuming 63% of it.

2) Myth: We must cut defense spending to balance the federal budget.

Fact: No. It is not necessary, and would be unwise, to do. Cutting defense spending would weaken the military while producing only tiny “savings” that would not erase more than a fraction of the budget deficit. Even eliminating all military spending entirely would not even halve the annual budget deficit (which is ca. $1.4 trillion per year).

The fact is that military spending is such a small portion of the federal budget (just 19%) that the budget can be balanced without cutting it. How? The Republican Study Committee and the Heritage Foundation have both shown how. Both of them have devised budget proposals that would balance the federal budget by FY2020 without cutting defense spending by one dollar. (Last year, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation reviewed 6 different proposals to fix America’s debt problem at its 2011 Solutions Summit, and of all six proposals, the Heritage Foundation’s proposal reduces the national debt by the most and keeps federal spending and taxes at the lowest levels.) Moreover, GWOT spending is automatically scheduled to go down and eventually zero out when the last American troops return home from Afghanistan. So the claim that defense spending must be cut to balance the budget is a lie.

3) The US spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined, or almost as much.

Also wrong. According to the SIPRI, the US was, in FY/CY2011, responsible for only 42.8%-43% of the world’s total military spending – and that’s only if you accept SIPRI’s woefully understated estimates of China’s and Russia’s military budgets (which are significantly higher than what SIPRI, China, and Russia admit) at face value. (China’s real military budget in FY2011 was at least $150 bn.) Furthermore, according to the SIPRI, the 12 next countries on the list combined outspend the US.

4) Myth: We pay for the defense of Europe, Japan, and South Korea. If we were not defending these countries, we could afford to significantly cut our defense spending.

Fact: While the US does protect European countries (as well as helping Japan and South Korea defend themselves), it is not true that it could afford to significantly cut its defense spending if it were not defending foreign states. America spends as much on defense as she spends because the threats are so grave; America’s defense spending should be determied exclusively by the threats facing the US and its national interests. So even if the US were to defend only itself and leave all of its allies fending for themselves (a very foolish proposition) it would still need to spend as much on defense as it does now.

5) Myth: Our military budget is the biggest it has been since the end of WW2.

Fact: Only in raw dollar numbers, which are irrelevant, and only if the total military budget (including spending on Iraq, Afghanistan, and the DOE’s defense related programs) is counted. That’s $662 bn per the FY2012 NDAA. However, it amounts, as stated above, to just 4.51% of GDP (the CIA World Factbook says it’s actually just 4.07% of GDP) and just 19% of the total federal budget. Excluding the late 1990s, when it amounted to even less, this is the military’s smallest share of America’s GDP and of the total federal budget since FY1948. Throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948, and throughout the early 1990s, this share was higher. Furthermore, President Reagan’s last 3 defense budgets were also larger than the current total military budget on a per capita basis:

FY…….DOD budget ($ bn)…..US population (mn people)….DOD budget per capita ($)

1987….606.35………………….248………………………………….2,444

1988…..574,23…………………248………………………………….2,315

1989…..568,53………………….248…………………………………2,292

2012…..662………………………308…………………………………2,149

As of the 1990 census, the population of the United States was 248 million people. As of the 2010 Census, the population of the country was 308 million people. All budget figures for this table are given in CY2012 dollars, having been converted to this value using the DOL’s inflation calculator.

Moreover, the core defense budget (i.e. the budget which pays for the day-to-day meintenance, feeding, housing, training, and equipping of the US military) is not the largest since WW2.

6) Myth: Defense spending is just another big government program, albeit one that is loved by Republicans.

Fact: Defense spending is NOT a Big Government program, nor is it anyone’s pet project, nor a contravention of the Limited Government Principle. On the contrary, according to conservative ideology, defense is a Constitutionally legitimate government function and indeed the #1 Constitutional DUTY of the federal government. The #1 reason for having a federal government at all is to have it defend the country and its citizens. The Preamble to the Supreme Law of the Land explains why the federal government was established in the first place:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution not only authorizes a strong national defense (and consequently, robust funding for it), it REQUIRES it. Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the Constitution says as follows:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion…

As you can see, the Constitution not merely authorizes, it REQUIRES a strong defense and therefore any measures necessary to build it.

A key tenet – indeed, the overriding principle – of conservative philosophy is that we must obey the Constitution as it is written. We may not cherry-pick which parts of the Constitution we’re going to obey and which ones we won’t abide by. But that’s what Ron Paul and his minions (including Jack Hunter) are doing. They cherry-pick the Constitution and abide only by those party they like, while ignoring the ones they don’t like and pretending they don’t exist.

7) Myth: We can afford to cut defense spending significantly and still remain the world’s militarily strongest country.

Fact: This is completely wrong. No defense cuts, large or small, can be done without adverse consequences – and these consequences would be proportional to the cuts.  SmallSignificant defense cuts would significantly – deeply – weaken the military and potentially render it hollow. That is unavoidable. That’s because behind each defense cut hides a cut of the number of troops, weapon inventories, weapon programs, troop benefit programs, bases, operation & maintenance programs, training resources, or ROTC units.

8) Myth: There is no significant threat to the US at present.

Fact: There are several significant threats to America as of today. The biggest is Communist China, which is growing its nuclear weapons arsenal (and making its delivery systems more accurate, more survivable, and more numerous) and has accumulated a vast, impressive, diverse arsenal of anti-access/access-denial weapons which would prevent the US military from entering a certain geographic theater. With the second-largest economy in the world and a population of 1.2 billion people, China is a larger threat than the Soviet Union ever was. Then there is a resurgent and anti-American Russia, a nuclear-armed North Korea, an Iran racing to acquire nuclear weapons, Communist-governed Venezuela, and several terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda, LET, the Haqqani network, Hezbollah, Hamas, and FARC.

9) Myth: Military spending mightly contributed to the current debt crisis.

Fact: No, it did not. Firstly, as stated above, total military spending amounts to just 19% of the total federal budget, while entitlements consume 63%. Military spending is too small to have caused thecurrent debt crisis. Secondly, the actual sphistory of spending growth over the last 1 years proves that it was civilian, not military, spending that caused the current debt crisis. The vast majority of the Bush-era spending increases went to civilian programs (79%), and only 21% of the spending increases enacted by President Bush went to the military. From FY2000 to FY2012, federal spending splurged from $2.384 T in today’s money ($1.766 T in FY2000/CY1999 dollars) to $3.8 T, i.e. by $1.416 trillion. At the same time, military spending has increased from $352 bn in today’s money ($261 bn in FY2000 dollars) to $662 bn today, i.e. by $310 bn. In other words, only 21.89% of that increase went to the military. From FY2001 to today, military spending has grown by $272 bn, from $390 bn (in today’s money; in FY2001/CY2000 dollars it was $297 bn) to $662 bn.

From FY2008 to FY2010, federal spending splurged, in FY2010 dollars, by $508 bn, from $2.983 trillion to $3.491 trillion. Meanwhile, the core defense budget (not counting spending on Afghanistan) increased by only $35.24 bn, from $506 bn in FY2008 to $542.76 in FY2010. (All figures stated in this paragraph are, unlike in other paragraphs, in FY2010 dollars.)

Since President Obama took office, civilian spending has increased even more dramatically (for example, welfare spending skyrocketed to $888 bn in his first fiscal year alone and the budget of the Department of State has doubled), while defense spending has been cut and while total military spending is lower than it was in FY2008.

10) Myth: The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about has gone wild and is bloated. If he were alive, he would’ve advocated defense spending cuts.

Fact: This is also false. President Eisenhower did not argue for any defense cuts during his Farewell Address. Instead, he underlined the need for the military to remain under civilian control and not to exercise vast, oversized influence over the government and the society – and especially not to disturb the ordinary democratic political process, which it has never disturbed. Here’s the full quote of what he really said on the subject:

“Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American
experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

If one reads the entire speech, rather than just one sentence quoted out of context, it is clear that Esienhower did not call for any defense cuts. What he did do was to warn the citizenry to “compel the proper meshing” of the defense establishment with “our peaceful methods and goals”, and not to allow it to subvert America’s ordinary democratic political process, “so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Morever, earlier in the speech, Eisenhower said:

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. “our arms must be mighty, ready for constant action, so that no aggressor will risk his self-destruction.”

So, instead of seeing the military establishment as a threat to America’s civil liberties, its economy, or its prosperity, he called it “a vital element in keeping the peace” – which it is. Without a strong defense you cannot have peace.

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