Defense Spending Beacons

Article excerpt


Is America spending too much or too little on defense? That's a fair and crucial question, especially at a time of war, when U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are dying overseas. But because advocates on both sides of the issue are asking the wrong questions, recent media analysis of the issue has been ill-informed and misplaced.

Critics of increased defense spending argue correctly that, in absolute dollar terms, the United States spends more on defense than at any time in its history. In addition, they note, the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined. Therefore, they argue, defense spending is more than adequate.

Proponents of increased defense spending counter that a dollar today is worth a lot less than in it was in previous eras. Moreover, they add, as a share of the gross domestic product (GDP), defense spending is at a historic low during a time of war.

The United States spends less than 4 percent of its GDP on defense. By contrast, Defense spending averaged some 14 percent of GDP in the Korean War, nearly 10 percent during the Vietnam War, and more than 33 percent during World War II.

Clearly, both sides in this debate have legitimate contextual points; however, both sides miss the mark.

Defense spending relative to that of other nations is an unhelpful comparison because the United States isn't like other nations. America is the world's sole remaining superpower, with far-reaching obligations to protect U.S. national security interests worldwide.

Moreover, American considers its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to be its greatest military asset. Thus, we are unwilling to sacrifice their lives when technology can prevent the loss of life. That's one important reason America has invested literally hundreds of billions of dollars in advanced weapons systems: We know dollars spent today can save lives tomorrow.

In fact, when you consider the relative loss of American life since 1945 (when the Cold War began), it is clear that U.S. defense spending has been money well-spent. Indeed, by any historical comparison, American casualties have been remarkably low, thanks in large part to our nation's investment in weapon systems that have minimized our troops' vulnerability to danger.

There was a well-known "procurement holiday" in the 1990s; however, since Sept. 11, 2001, money for new procurement has risen rather substantially. But as critics of increased defense spending point out, this new money is not necessarily being well-appropriated. Spending, after all, must be tied to a procurement plan, which, in turn, must correspond with an overarching military strategy.

As it turns out, there is a National Defense Strategy that governs defense procurement planning. The March 2005 document wisely calls for a military that can project power from the "global commons" - i.e., space, cyberspace, international waters and airspace - to distant and austere environments that have little or no existing infrastructure. …