Based on surveys of the Stockholm International Peace Institute of the 128 nations for which there are data, the U.S. now accounts for 41 percent of all military expenditures on the planet. In fact, it spends more than the next 16 nations combined. Short of some large nation deciding to vastly increase its own spending, that gigantic margin is likely to remain fairly stable. When figuring the impact of these budgets, it's worth remembering that certain items that are actually elements of defense spending—for example, the cost of health care for veterans and the interest on money borrowed to pay for past wars—are left out of the tally.
It also shouldn't be forgotten that in the decade beginning in 2001, Pentagon spending nearly doubled. In inflation-adjusted dollars, it rose higher than it's been in the post-World War II world. It's dropped recently, mostly as a consequence of the end of the war in Iraq and the winding down in Afghanistan. But even if sequestration were to occur, defense spending would fall back only as far as it was in 2007, again adjusted for inflation.
How unsafe did that 2007 level of spending make the United States?
What's more, even with sequestration, between now and 2022, the Pentagon budget would rise an inflation-adjusted 2.4 percent annually, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Which means the core defense budget, without money for war spending, would be higher in a decade than it is now although considerably lower than it would be if the growth in its budget weren't slated to be slowed.
One key reason for this beyond militaristic ideology is that the Pentagon can't prioritize. The players, that is, the contractors helped along with retired generals and colonels on their boards, Congresspeople eager for jobs in their districts and the leadership of the uniformed services themselves—the Eisenhower-dubbed military-industrial complex—are determined to keep buying unneeded stuff, often overpriced stuff that is technologically, tactically and strategically obsolete.
The "stakeholders" don't always agree with each other on individual items, but the web of interconnections and backslapping and arm-twisting conspires to keep the machine going even when the results are nonsense. Please continue reading about Pentagon budget cuts below the fold.
[T]he defense budget contains hundreds of billions of dollars for new generations of aircraft carriers and stealth fighters, tanks that even the Army says it doesn’t need and combat vehicles too heavy to maneuver in desert sands or cross most bridges in Asia, Africa or the Middle East.What kind of weapons programs are most out of control?
“There’s a fundamental need to have a conversation about what kind of military we need to have and what we should expect it to do,” Andrew Bacevich, a West Point graduate and former Army colonel who now teaches at Boston University, said in an interview.
In the absence of such a conversation, the Pentagon faces the prospect of $500 billion in automatic cuts over the next decade, beginning March 1, with no consensus on what to trim. Instead, the budget is driven largely by champions of existing programs in Congress, the defense industry and the uniformed services. As a result, predicts Bacevich: “The behemoth of an entity called the Pentagon is not going to shrink.”
• the F-35, designed to replace the F-16 fighter, the A-10 “Warthog,” F-18C/D Hornet and AV-8B Harrier jump-jet, is now slated to cost $395.7 billion, a cost overrun of 70 percent since the contract was signed with Lockheed-Martin in 2001.
• the Army plans to spend up to $32 billion to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle with the Ground Combat Vehicle, a 70-ton machine that is only slightly better than the Bradley and could not be quickly moved to where it's needed.
• two versions instead of one of the Littoral Combat Ship are being built for coastal patrols at $440 million apiece. The ship has inadequate guns, as well as cracks and other flaws that make it highly vulnerable. But acquisition has not stopped.
That list could go on and on. And, as we've seen for decades, the system ensures that it will go on and on, even as some budget shrinkage is applied.
Then, of course, there are all those U.S. military bases overseas, some of them small, some gargantuan, but 800 or 1,000 of them, depending on who is counting, with more to come in places like Niger, with few shutdowns. Projecting U.S. power in places like Europe, where, nearly 70 years since the end of World War II, America still has 80,000 troops.
The result [of proposed budget cuts] says Ronald Reagan’s former assistant Secretary of Defense Larry Korb, would be a defense budget leaving the United States “still spending more than the next 14 nations in the world combined, most of whom are allies.” In historical terms, he says, “spending would still be higher in inflation-adjusted dollars than the Cold War average.”Think about that. Higher than the Cold War average. So while we continue overspending for a military not tailored to accomplish the defense tasks required in a 21st century world, our nation's non-military infrastructure, from roads to schools—as crucial for our national security as the Air Force—crumbles while politicians twiddle their thumbs.
Rebuilding the parts of that infrastructure that should be rebuilt, and developing an innovative new infrastructure where that matters, can easily absorb jobs lost from making real reductions in the Pentagon budget and redirecting the pared-down version into defense spending appropriate to the modern world. Not only would such a move improve the U.S. economy, it would provide a model for other nations to emulate without reducing our security one iota.