As the federal government struggles with record-high budget deficits, the opponents of a strong defense – who have been after the defense budget for a long time – are propaganding many false pretexts for deep defense cuts. Some of them, however, sound similar and can be distilled into the same lines of argument. This is the rebuttal of the 4 most popular lines, i.e. the 4 most popular pretexts for defense cuts.
Pretext #1: “We can’t afford today’s military. We’re spending too much on defense! We spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined!”
Wrong. The FY2011 core defense budget, per the FY2011 Defense Appropriations Act, was $513 bn (the Senate Appropriations Committee proposes the same core budget for the current FY, but the House wants to provide a somewhat larger one – $530 bn). That amounts to less than 15% of the total federal budget and just 3.49% of America’s GDP, which is $14.66 trillion according to the CIA World Factbook. These small numbers are record lows: the budget share is the smallest since before WW2, and the GDP share is also the smallest since WW2 if the late Clinton years are excepted. The total military budget for FY2011 was $688 bn. The total military budget for this fiscal year, according to Senate Appropriations Bills (if they are passed), will be ca. $645 bn, counting the core defense budget, the GWOT supplemental, and the spending on the DOE’s defense-related activities. That’s just 4.7% of GDP, a level of military spending last seen during the tenure of President Bush the Elder, and before that, during the term of President Carter in FY1979. It amounts to less than 19% of GDP. America can afford such low military budgets.
As for the claim that the US is spending more on the military than the rest of the world combined, it’s also wrong, because the SIPRI actually estimates America’s share of the global total to be just 42.8%. And that’s only if you underestimate Chinese and Russian military spending like SIPRI does.
Pretext #2: The Iraqi and Afghan wars cost us $4 trillion dollars. It’s time to end these expenditures.
Also wrong. This is a myth made up by liberal economist Joseph Stiglitz. The truth is that these two wars combined have cost America only $1.3 trillion to date, according to the CBO, which says this represents just 4.4% of all federal spending throghout that entire period. During that time, America’s base defense budget has remained constant as a share of the federal budget, at about 14-15%. So clearly military spending is not to blame for America’s fiscal woes.
Pretext #3: Defense has so far enjoyed protected status. It has been protected by the Republican party for generations. It’s time to end that.
Also wrong! Defense spending has never enjoyed protected status, not even during the Bush era. Defense spending was deeply cut during the 1940s (down to 3.5% of GDP), the mid-1950s (after the Korean War), the 1970s, the late 1980s, and the 1990s. Even under President Bush, Congress repeatedly provided less for defense than what the President requested, and when it did consider providing more than what he asked for, he threatened to veto the defense budget. In 2005, the Bush OMB ordered the DOD to cut its core budget by $32.1 bn dollars in 2005’s money.
Since President Obama took office, five rounds of defense cuts have been conducted and a sixth one is underway. In 2009, President Obama ordered Robert Gates to close, for purely political and budgetary reasons, over 30 crucial weapon programs. Further program closures were ordered in early 2010. Later that year, the Senate ratified the New START treaty, which orders the US to dramatically cut its nuclear arsenal and its nuclear triad. In January 2011, Obama ordered Gates to cut another $78 bn from the core defense budget over the next 5 FYs (FY2012-FY2016) and to save another $100 bn through efficiencies which, Obama and Gates promised the Services, would be reinvested in military modernization, not used to reduce the deficit. In April 2011, Republicans passed, and Obama signed, a CR which cut defense spending in real terms from FY2011 levels. A new CR, for FY2011, which is scheduled to expire today, also cut defense spending. And on August 1st, Republicans agreed to a debt ceiling deal which has ordered an immediate $465 bn cut from “security spending” and created a Super COmmittee that can dump further cuts on the DOD; if that Super Committee fails (i.e. does not agree on a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan by November 23rd), a sequester will kick in and completely gut the military. So no, defense has never enjoyed “protected status”.
Pretext #4: There’s so much waste in the defense budget that we can cut it significantly.
Again, wrong. There is some waste in the budget of the DOD – as there is in the budget of every government agency – but there isn’t enough of it to cut the defense budget safely (i.e. without harming the military) by $46.5 bn per year, let alone $106.5 bn per year. There isn’t enough waste in the defense budget. Not even close. I know, because I’ve been studying and analyzing defense budgets for over 4 years. I am also the author of the most comprehensive DOD reform proposals package ever devised. I know defense budgets better than anyone who does not work at the Pentagon. There isn’t enough waste in the defense budgets. (Note: crucial weapon programs that leftists don’t like, such as the F-35 and the V-22, are not “waste”.)