Many self-named fiscal conservatives claim that because of America’s current fiscal woes (a $1.29 trillion annual budget deficit and a national debt of almost $14 trillion), defense spending should be reduced – deeply reduced, according to some of them. These advocates of defense spending cuts can be divided into these groups:
1) Those who believe that the defense budget should be the only category of spending that should be reduced;
2) Those who believe that the defense budget should be the biggest, but not the only, spending category facing reductions;
3) Those who believe that all categories of federal spending should face equal or similar reductions;
4) Those who wish to abolish the federal government altogether.
All four groups are wrong. Defense spending should not be reduced even by one dollar per year. Why? For several reasons.
Firstly, defense is not an option, but rather a constitutional OBLIGATION of the federal government, as well as one of the reasons why the federal government was established in the first place. It’s not an option that the federal government might decide to pursue or not to pursue. The federal government is obliged to provide for the common defense, as per the Constitution.
Secondly, defense spending is NOT to blame for America’s fiscal woes. It constitutes only 14.87% of the total federal budget and a paltry 3.65% of GDP (FY2010 data). Total military spending, including the GWOT supplemental appropriation, constituted 18.5% of the total federal budget and just 4.5% of GDP as of FY2010. Obama’s proposed FY2011 federal budget would reduce the DOD’s share of the total federal budget to 14.31% (excluding GWOT spending). American GDP per capita is $46,000 per year, so 3.65% of GDP means that the annual defense budget costs the average American only $1700 per year.
From FY2007 to FY2011, defense spending has increased by $59 bn, from $475 bn to $534 bn, while total federal spending has splurged from $2729 bn to $3591 bilion and the budget deficit has grown from $161 bn to $1290 billion. So post-FY2007 defense spending growth accounts for only 6.844% of the total federal spending growth and only 5.22% of the total budget deficit growth witnessed since FY2007, when the budget deficit was small ($161 bn as of FY2007). The post-FY2001 trend is equally instructive. According to John R. Guardiano of the American Spectator, only 20% of the total federal spending growth witnessed since FY2001 was represented by defense spending growth.
It is evident to any honest person that the DOD is not to blame for America’s fiscal woes.
Thirdly, defense spending is too low already. The truth is that the US military can’t cope with less money than it already has. The FY2010 defense budget constituted 3.65% of GDP. During the entire Cold War, America’s defense budget was larger, except the FY1948 defense warchest (3.50% of GDP). The US military is now facing the necessary task of replacing the vast majority of its equipment: its warships, fighterplanes, attack aircraft, ASW planes, EW aircraft, tankers, cargoplanes, AWACSes, gunships, CSAR helicopters and APCs. These weapons are obsolete and most of them (as well as the military’s tanks, IFVs and attack helicopters) have been worn out as a result of 9 years of continous war. The US military absolutely needs this 3.65% of GDP to replace its weapons, maintain its current force structure (at least the structure of combat units), operate its weapons and bases, and prepare itself for new threats. Don’t believe me? Ask the Secretary of Defense or Rep. Paul Ryan.
That is not to say that every single dollar of the annual defense budget is spent properly or that the DOD can’t afford to abolish any of the items in its annual budget. But only non-combat related items in its budget (e.g. unneeded bases, nonmilitary projects, excessive benefits, oversized bureaucracies and unneeded reports) should be reduced or abolished. Moreover, the DOD needs the savings that would be generated this way to reinvest them in crucial equipment. The Secretary of Defense, as well as defense experts from the HF and the AEI, have said so.
Fourth, contrary to the often-repeated myth that any solution to America’s fiscal woes must include defense spending reductions, the truth is that the federal budget can be balanced without any defense spending cuts. How? By implementing my Blueprint for a Balanced Budget, a logical result of my Blueprint for a Smaller Government.
These blueprints have proven that a balanced budget and maintaining defense spending at the current level (3.65% of GDP) are not mutually-exclusive goals. Unlike most so-called fiscal conservatives, I have provided a blueprint of how to balance the federal budget without defense spending cuts. Most of them haven’t even presented any plan to balance the budget at all. (Please note that even if the entire DOD was abolished, the federal government would still be facing a $814-bn annual budget deficit.)
So please don’t listen to those who say that defense spending should be reduced. It shouldn’t be cut. If the Congress really wants to balance the federal budget, it should significantly reduced the FG’s bloated domestic spending.
Defense spending (=the defense budget): The annual core DOD budget which finances the military itself, and is supposed to make it possible for the US to build and maintain a strong defense.
GWOT supplemental spending (appropriation): The annual supplemental appropriation used to finance the GWOT, specifically, the Afghan war and the deployment of American troops to Iraq. It has nothing to do with the task of building and maintaining a strong defense.
Total federal budget: The entire federal budget, proposed by the President and approved (or rejected) by the Congress. Includes both obligatory spending (entitlement programs and debt interest payments) and discretionary spending (which includes defense spending and GWOT supplemental spending).
Domestic spending: Money spent on nonmilitary purposes in the United States. This term encompasses entitlements, debt interest payments, and discretionary domestic spending (e.g. the DHS, the DOT and the DHUD).