The following is a rebuttal of many pseudo-arguments for defense cuts that I’ve seen or heard uttered. Some of the rebuttals are reiterations of what I’ve said earlier; others are new.
Pseudo-argument #1: Defense spending has long enjoyed protected status from budget cuts, so it’s time to cut it.
Fact: Defense spending has never enjoyed protected status. During the Reagan years, significant DOD reforms were instituted, most wasteful expenditures were rooted out after the $600 toilet seat scandal, and after 1986, the defense budget was cut in real terms by the Gramm-Rudman Act and other Congressional legislation. During the period from 1989 to 2001, Presidents Bush and Clinton, together with the Congress, cut defense spending by 35% (i.e. more than a third), drastically reducing the military’s force structure, modernization programs, and base infrastructure. Under President Bush, numerous crucial weapon programs were closed, the DOD got smaller budgets than it wanted, and in 2005, it was ordered to cut its budget by billions of dollars. Under President Obama, over 50 weapon programs have been closed, and $439 billion has already been cut from defense budgets, even as Obama has been expanding America’s military commitments. And in April, Obama ordered the DOD to cut its budget by another $400 billion over the next 12 years. Defense spending is now lower than it was during FY2008 ($513 bn this FY against $524 bn during FY2008, in real terms). So no, defense spending has never enjoyed protected status.
Pseudo-argument #2: Defense spending and the DOD as an institution have been shielded from serious scrutiny for a long time.
Fact: Defense spending and the DOD have never been shielded from serious scrutiny. They are constantly monitored by the media (which often pick any problem of the DOD as a pretext for defense cuts), CSPAN, and the Congress, which frequently holds hearings on defense issues, including defense budgetary issues, and the DOD has to justify its budget requests and programmatic decisions to the Congress. The Congress often asks difficult questions, as anyone who has watched Congressional hearings of DOD officials would attest. One of the most difficult hearings was that of January 2011, when the Deputy SECDEF and Vice Chiefs were grilled by the HASC and the Deputy SECDEF had to embarrasingly admit, in response to a question by Congressman Randy Forbes, that no auditible finacial statements were filed for FY2010.
Pseudo-argument #3: We can afford to cut defense spending because it’s possible to maintain defense-on-the-cheap. We can afford to have a strong defense at a much lower cost.
Fact: 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).
Pseudo-argument #4: We should treat all kinds of spending equally, and if we’re going to cut entitlements and domestic discretionary spending, we should also cut defense spending. Why should the DOD be exempted?
Fact: It is wrong and even insulting to treat defense spending as just another line item in the federal budget. 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 ourPosterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The Congress should adequately fund those few agencies who perform Constitutional tasks of the federal government, while defunding every unconstitutional agency and program.
Also, those who protest against “exempting” defense spending from cuts appear to suggest that defense spending has, so far, been exempted from cuts. This is untrue, as evidenced in the rebuttal to Pseudo-argument #1.
Pseudo-argument #5: Defense spending caused (or helped cause) the current deficit crisis, so it must be cut if this crisis is to be ended.
Fact: Defense spending did not cause America’s fiscal problems, and cutting it won’t solve them, as testified by President Obama’s own nominee for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.
Defense spending has grown by only 47% in real terms over the last decade, from $377 bn (in today’s money) in FY2001 to $513 bn today. (GWOT spending added another $160 bn in FY2011). In FY2000, it accounted for a full 15% of federal spending; now it accounts for 14.31%. In FY2001, it amounted to 3.0% of GDP; now it amounts to 3.5%. (The proposed FY2012 defense budget would increase that amount slightly, to 3.78%, assuming no cuts are made to it.)
Since FY2001, total federal spending has doubled, from $1.85 trillion per year to $3.7 trillion per annum, but defense has received only ca. 8% of that spending splurge. The rest was added to the GWOT accounts and to civilian spending accounts.
Federal spending has been growing year after year nonstop, as has discretionary civilian spending, while the DOD had to cut its budget in 2005, 2009, 2010 and this year. Since FY2010, defense spending has been reduced from $550 bn (in today’s money) to $513 billion. In FY2009 alone, over 30 weapon programs were closed. Several further were closed this fiscal year, and the DOD has proposed closing several further ones. Since Obama has taken office, defense spending (along with projections for future defense budget plans) has been cut by $439 billion during just 2.5 years.
At the same time, civilian spending – discretionary and nondiscretionary alike – has skyrocketed, and within, budget deficits and the public debt. So defense spending cuts have utterly failed to reduce the deficit.
In FY2008, the defense budget was $524.07 in today’s money ($481.4 in FY2008 dollars), and the federal budget deficit was ca. $400 bn. This fiscal year, the defense budget is $513 bn, but the federal budget deficit is $1.65 trillion – four times larger than it was in FY2008! So no, defense spending did not cause America’s fiscal problems.
Pseudo-argument #6: After all the billions of dollars that the DOD has wasted, exempting it from further budget cuts would mean rewarding it and sparing it the punishment.
Fact: Cutting the defense budget won’t reform the DOD. It would actually produce the opposite effect, as it would reduce in even higher cost growth, cost overruns, program delays, etc. This is what happened during the 1970s – the defense budget was cut, and yet the costs of DOD programs were growing at an average pace of 14% per year. Then, in 1981, Ronald Reagan began his DOD reforms. During the 1970s and the 1990s, defense spending was deeply cut, and yet no DOD reforms occurred. These cuts only weakened the military and exacerbated the DOD’s problems. Real reforms of the DOD occurred during times when defense spending was increased: during the 1960s, 1980s, and the Bush era (under Secretary Rumsfeld).
Last but not least, the federal government’s role is to provide for America’s defense, not to punish the DOD. Reducing the defense budget will not help the federal government play that role.
Pseudo-argument #7: America spends more on defense than all other countries of the world combined, so we can surely afford to cut our defense budget.
America does not spend more on its military (let alone on the core defense budget) than the rest of the world combined. It’s simply not true. The latest SIPRI estimates of the world’s military budgets for calendar year 2010 show that while the US spent $687 bn on its military in CY2010, the next 21 countries combined (the PRC, France, Britain, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, India, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Australia, Spain, the UAE, Turkey, Israel, the Netherlands, Greece, Colombia, and Taiwan) collectively spent $691.009 billion on their militaries in CY2010, more than the US. If you count America’s core defense budget only, and don’t count GWOT spending, it takes even fewer countries to outspend the US. Moreover, the SIPRI understated China’s military budget (which, according to the DOD, was $140 bn in FY2007 and about $150 bn in CY2010) and blindly accepted Russia’s understated military budget (many Russian ministries buy military goods from their budgets and give them as “free goods” to the Russian MOD). Moreover, raw dollar figures, even if adjusted for inflation, mask two facts:
1) Most countries of the world don’t have the same defense needs, and the same broad global interests, as the US has.
2) In most countries of the world, including China and Russia, one dollar can buy several times more than in the US.
In short, any comparison of another country’s military budget to that of the United States is an apples-to-oranges comparison. Other countries’ defense budgets are useless as indicators of what America’s defense budget should be.
Pseudo-argument #8: The defense budget is more than adequate. We can afford to cut it.
Fact: The FY2011 defense budget is anything but adequate. It amounts to $513 bn ($530 bn according to some sources), i.e. just 3.5% of GDP. It’s the smallest defense budget, measured as a percentage of GDP, since FY1948, excepting the budgets for FYs1998-2002. It is very short on funding for both modernization and readiness. As all four Service Vice Chiefs testified before the Congress recently, their services are already suffering significant readiness shortages and their equipment has been worn out, and cutting the defense budget would severely weaken them. See here, here, here, here, and here. Signs that the US military’s equipment is worn out and damaged, and that the military is not ready to fight, are evident and have been publicly reported. For example, all of the USN’s 22 Ticonderoga class cruisers have cracks in their hulls, and 40% of the USN’s warships are not ready to deploy.
Pseudo-argument #9: After almost a decade of war, it’s time for the military to shed people, weapons, and dollars.
Fact: Whether wars are ending or not is irrelevant to whether the US military should shed them or not, and to how much America should spend on defense. Wars haven’t ended yet, but when they do, GWOT spending will zero out automatically. But even when these wars end, the US should not cut its defense spending and weaken its military. It is always necessary to maintain a strong defense, and maintaining it is the best way to keep peace. As George Washington said, “to be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of keeping peace.”
Pseudo-argument #10: There will be no adverse consequences if we cut the defense budget deeply.
Fact: On the contrary, there will be disastrous consequences. Modernization programs would have to be radically cut or completely cancelled, on top of all program cuts and closures already administered by Presidents Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Readiness would also suffer dreadfully, as testified by all four Service Vice Chiefs. See here. The US military is already stressed, stretched thin, suffering significant readiness and equipment shortages, and its weapons have been worn out. Cutting defense spending further would be the knockout blow for the military.
Pseudo-argument #11: We can’t afford to spend as much as we currently do. Defense has to be cut if America is to avoid a financial disaster.
Fact: America does not have to cut its defense budget to balance its budget. The defense budget ($513 bn in FY2011) amounts to just 14.31% of the total federal budget and therefore, it’s not necessary to cut it to balance the budget. Congressman Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, and the Heritage Foundation have both proposed budgets that would eventually eliminate the budget deficit entirely (Paul Ryan’s plan would also eventually pay off the entire public debt). So it’s possible to balance the budget without defense spending cuts.
Pseudo-argument #12: Cutting defense spending is a better option than, for example, cutting welfare programs, entitlements, farm subsidies, and the Education Department’s budget.
Actually, if defense spending is cut (especially if it’s cut deeply), America will be harmed more badly than if those domestic programs are cut. Most of them don’t benefit the country at all – they benefit only the dependency class, seniors, and constituencies that receive pork from these programs and agencies. Many federal programs and agencies, such as naked body scanners, most other DHS programs, ethanol subsidies, and agencies that meddle with states’ affairs (e.g. the Education Department), are actively damaging. Many others, such as NASA, studies of the DNA of bears in Montana, and the study on whether a gay man’s penis size matters, are downright wasteful.
This list was meant to be exhaustive, but sadly, it is not possible to cover to all the myths, lies, and other pseudo-arguments invented by the opponents of defense spending. Perhaps monks at some monastery will attempt to do so someday.