Why defense spending should be exempted from cuts – in one post.

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.”

The URL: http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Preamble

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.


2 thoughts on “Why defense spending should be exempted from cuts – in one post.”

  1. Quick Rebuttal:
    1.) The preamble could justify nearly any policy. All it has to do is “form a more perfect union” or “promote the general welfare”. I don’t think it gets you much here.
    2.) I disagree that budget cuts are “defense on the cheap”. I don’t think people are talking about sending our troops into Afghanistan on camels with sticks. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project costs $11 billion and seems fairly controversial. Our navy is bigger than the next 13 countries with large navies and 11 of those are our allies. 4% GDP is a lot of money from the US and that’s just DOD spending (total “defense” spending, including interest payments, estimates around $1 trillion). You could budget for half of that and still spend far more than any other nation (China’s 2008 figures were around $61 billion to our $608 billion, UK was at $60 billion).
    3.) This is more of a result of stretching yourself thin on a peacetime budget, for which there are a number of factors. Geopolitical are one, but if you cut around “Overseas Contingency Operations”, you don’t have as big of an issue here. FWIW, I’m fine with raising taxes to meet budgetary concerns for war in peacetime. Personally, I think if it’s worth dying for, it’s worth making citizens pay for.
    4.) Weakened as compared to what? Weaker than the UK? Weaker than China? Weaker than North Korea? “Weakened”, on its own, isn’t worth much beyond a scare tactic. Frankly, I don’t think removing $100 billion would do much at all (except limit some research projects and possibly limit where we send troops) and I find that to be quite a significant number. Even $10 billion is a great number when you combine it with additional domestic cuts.
    5.) Most defense spending is geared towards conventional war. When was the last time we fought a conventional war? Sure, China probably has around 1 million more troops than us, but they’d still have to get them here. You have a good point about access denial weapons, but I don’t think budgetary cuts have to be unilateral. Spend money on priority items and drop the rest.
    6.) That’s how the political game is played, sure. The bigger point, IMO, is that nothing should be “off-limits” to someone that’s truly “small government” or “fiscally conservative”. If you want to shave $100 billion off the budget, do it across the board. Saying things are “off-limits” actually just creates political barriers because now the dems can sit back and do what I’m basically doing now, only they’ll push everything on to the military as though it were the only thing costing the US government money. IMO, it’s a bad political and financial move to make anything off-limits.

    Also, “socialist” is a bit of a BS term — and you know it’s a BS term because it can be applied to damn near anything and adds nothing of merit. For example, “Having a large military is socialist!” Just say “domestic programs” and leave the name calling out.

    1. Your pseudorebuttal is a litany of lies.
      1) The Preamble does not justify “any policy”. It lists specific reasons for why the Constitution and the FG were established, inter alia, to “form a more perfect Union” (i.e. replace the Articles of the Confederacy), “provide for the general welfare” (i.e. deliver from evil), and “provide for the common defense”.
      2) Defense cuts DO MEAN “defense on the cheap”, regardless of how you call it. It’s a fact. Their very purpose is to either have “Defense on the cheap” or a defenseless country. The JSF program does not cost $11 bn per year and the only reason why it’s “controversial” is because strident liberals like you protest against it. It is absolutely necessary to replace America’s obsolete tactical aircraft. As for the USN – don’t make me laugh. The USN is not bigger than even the 2 next biggest navies combined, let alone 13. What you’re referring to is a false claim made by the utterly discredited SECDEF Robert Gates, who claimed that the USN is uncontested because its displacement is supposedly bigger than that of the next 13 navies combined. Displacement is irrelevant as a measure of how strong a navy is. The USN now numbers just 285 ships, which means it has the smallest warship fleet since 1916. Its shipbuilding budget is insufficient to even maintain the current size of the fleet, let alone grow it. The USN is also inferior to its enemies technologically: it cannot detect enemy nuclear subs nor AIP-equipped subs. 4% of GDP would be a tiny percentage, but the US doesn’t spend even THAT on defense, it spends only 3.59% of GDP. Total military spending amounts to 4.5% of GDP. During most of the Cold War era, the US annually spent more on it smilitary than 4.5% of GDP. China’s defense budget for FY2008 was larger than $61 bn. Don’t believe the lies of the Chinese government.
      3) This is primarily the result of inadequate funding of the military. Either you fight two wars against criminal regimes, and finance the military adequately, or you do not.
      4) Weakened as compared to how strong it was earlier, and weaker than the Chinese military and the Russian military. The Chinese military is already stronger than the US military, which can’t even detect Song-class submarines. A $100 bn annual reduction of defense spending would be a disaster, because it would result in the closure of dozens of weapon programs and the disbanding of many units.
      5) The last time the US fought a conventional war was 2003, when the US military invaded Iraq and fought the conventional Iraqi military. It wasn’t until Saddam was defeated that the guerilla war began. And I believe ALL necessary weapon programs should be funded adequately, not just the priority programs.
      China has a strong military and could (and intends to) drive the US out of Eastern Asia. Its Flankers and J-11s are superior to F-15s and F-16s, while its Song, Tang and Kilo class subs can inflict huge casualties on the USN. Its HQ-9 SAMs can shoot down any nonstealthy aircraft, while their Sovremenny class warships can sink American aircraft carriers.
      6) Defense, as the #1 duty of the federal government, MUST be off-limits. I am a small-government fiscal conservative, and it’s legitimate for me to say that.

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