Defense Spending

Article excerpt


I agreed with many parts of James Jay Carafano's thoughtful assessment of U.S. defense spending ("In defense of defense spending," Commentary, Thursday), but I must respectfully disagree with his conclusion that tying U.S. defense spending to gross domestic product (GDP) is an appropriate way to measure our national commitment to security.

First, GDP is an arbitrary metric. Mr. Carafano often mentions 4 percent as a reasonable level, but if the U.S. economy were to suffer a deep recession, chances are that he would come back and say that 5 percent or 6 percent or 7 percent is the more appropriate level. What if the United States were forced into a World War III situation and had to fight for its survival? Shouldn't we then spend 50 percent of GDP? One hundred percent? The point is that you pay what you must, when you must, and any artificial floor is just that - artificial.

Second, tying defense spending to GDP is the purest manifestation of flawed strategic thinking I can imagine. Strategy is all about matching limited resources to achieve carefully scrutinized and prioritized objectives. When there are more threats, you spend more. When there are fewer, you spend less. Smart strategy is about making choices, and keeping defense budgets arbitrarily high avoids the hard choices that must be made in this age of dangerous threats. …