I sometimes get comments on my blog that ask: “Why is defense spending different? Why should it be sacrosanct? Why should it be exempted from spending cuts? Why put it off the table?”
This post is intended to explain that. There are several reasons why defense spending should not be reduced.
Firstly, unlike the vast majority of the other current agencies, policies and programs of the federal government, defense (i.e. creating and maintaining a strong military) is a constitutional DUTY of the federal government. Not only is it constitutionally-authorized, it’s a constitutional obligation. Contrary to what Liberal Grover Norquist and Liberal Lobbyist David Keene claimed in a November 2010 letter to Republican leaders, defense is not anyone’s pet project, it is a sacred obligation.
The need to provide for the common defense was, indeed, one of the reasons why the federal government was established in the first place. The Preamble to the Constitution says:
“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.”
Secondly, maintaining a strong defense is not cheap. “Defense-on-the-cheap” is not possible. During his time, President Bush, like many of his predecessors, misled the American people to believe that America could maintain “defense-on-the-cheap”, and he waged 2 simoultaneous wars with a peacetime military budget which never exceeded 4.5% of GDP. As Napoleon famously said, “An army marches on its stomach”. To have a strong defense, you need a large number of high-quality, modern weapons (tanks, fighterplanes, bombers, helicopters, warships, etc.) and highly-educated, well-trained, well-motivated people to operate them (and because the US military is an All-Volunteer Force, you need incentives to convince them to join the military in the first instance). Even so, the current defense budget is a light burden on the US economy (it amounts to just 3.59% of GDP) and so was the previous defense budget (it equalled 3.65% of GDP).
Thirdly, America’s defense investments are already inadequate. The FY2010 defense budget ($534 bn in 2009 dollars, $542.76 bn in today’s dollars according to the BLS Inflation Calculator) was the minimum necessary protect the Republic. The FY2011 defense budget authorized by the FY2011 ConRes is just $525 bn, $17 bn smaller than what was authorized for FY2010. This amount of money is inadequate to maintain the military and to replace the US military’s obsolete arsenal of weapons, most of which were made during the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. And if the shipbuilding budget is not increased, the Navy might shrink to just 180 ships, according to the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus.
Fourth, defense spending cuts would be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Even defense cuts on the scale proposed by the NTU, the PIRG, and the Deficit Reduction Commission would not even significantly reduce, let alone eliminate, the annual budget deficit ($1.4 trillion). What they WOULD do would be to weaken the military – severely so in the case of the defense cuts demanded by the NTU, the PIRG, and the Deficit Reduction Commission. Deny this all you want, former Congressman Armey, but it’s a fact. Defense spending cuts would lead to a weakened military.
Fifth, America’s enemies (whether it’s peer competitor like China and Russia, or rogue states like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela) are arming themselves and increasing their military spending. China has been increasing its military spending by double digits every year since 1989; Russia has doubled or tripled its military spending since 2000 (depending on the source); North Korea spends 25% of its GDP on the military; Iran and Venezuela are reaping the benefits of the $100/barrel price of oil. All of them are investing heavily in weaponry, mostly in access-denial weapons, i.e. equipment which is designed to deny the US military access to potential war theaters (e.g. submarines, SAMs, fighterplanes, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, malicious computer programs, anti-satellite weapons, naval mines, missile boats and gunboats). Gutting the military would always be foolish – but even more so in the face of these well-armed enemies.
Sixth, cutting defense spending would provide advocates of Big Government with a false, but convenient excuse to oppose and block reductions of domestic spending (discretionary and non-discretionary). Military spending is the ONLY category of federal spending they oppose. They don’t want domestic spending to be reduced, they want to protect it and they want to use defense spending cuts to protect their beloved socialist domestic programs from budget cuts. Barney Frank publicly admitted this fact in 2009. In short, when defense spending is put on the table, it sooner or later becomes the only thing on the table, as was the case during the late 1940s, the late 1950s, the 1970s and the 1990s. During each of these periods, defense spending was severely reduced and the military was gutted in 3 of these cases (the 1950s being an exception).
There is no reason to cut defense spending. There are six reasons to exempt it from spending cuts.