Defense Cuts



The hot topic for the last four years has been government spending, more specifically how to cut it, because, as the theory goes, that and the deficit it has created is an impediment to job creation.The simple answer is to cut defense spending but that solution is anathema to many, largely because cold war thinking still dominates the way many Americans see the world.But letís look at the evidence.


First of all, the amount we spend on our military budget dwarfs that of any other nation.We spend seven times as much as China (the next highest spender), and as much as the next 17 highest spenders combined (including China), and the majority of those are our close allies.Add up all the military spending on Earth - $1.735 trillion - and 41% of it comes from the US.But that doesnít include how much we spend on our nuclear arsenal, which falls under the budget for the Department of Energy.Nor does it include how much we spend on the CIA, NSA or Homeland Security or any of the other intelligence apparatus that keeps us safe from threats from abroad.So suffice it to say that we spend more on defense of our country than is conceivable to the general public.


The fear is that some other country will suddenly have a huge build up and catch us off guard like the Nazis and Japanese did before World War 2.But looking at the facts, in 1938 the total expenditure on the US military was $100 million.That was the entire budget.And unlike today where several aspects are covered under different parts of the budget, that sum represented the entire expenditure.The same amount was outlaid in 1939.It wasn't until Roosevelt pushed through the Lend Lease Act in 1941 that the US defense budget ballooned to more than $1 billion. Meanwhile, Germany was spending the deutschmark equivalent of $6.9 billion per year on its military and Japan was spending upwards of $3 billion.For Germany, that was nearly 70 times what the US spending.From a strictly logistical perspective, in 1939 the US had only one combat ready-division of troops; the Nazis had more than 200 and Japan had more than 100.That is clearly not the case today.In fact, the opposite could be argued as true, giving some countries legitimate concern about our potential for aggression.Iím not saying those concerns are altogether justified, but that using strictly the numbers can make a compelling case.


If you ask Mitt Romney or some of the NeoCons who are still living in the 1950s, Russia is our greatest threat.Or China.Nevermind the reality that we trade extensively with both.For example, about 10% of the USí electricity comes from nuclear fuel rods made from old Soviet warheads, which is more electricity than we get from wind, solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal combined. But for the sake of argument letís assume they are still our Cold War enemies.Russia is building roughly 200 next generation fighters with stealth capability.China is in the process of building 100.We need to keep up, right?The US already has sixty-three F-35 next generation fighters and is planning to build a total of 2,443 of them.The contract for those 2400+ fighters is set to last 50 years.Itís irrelevant that few weapon systems are still in use 50 years after their introduction, right?Itís only important that the American taxpayer will still be on the hook for the tab.Each F-35 currently cost between $197 million and $236 million to build, but by the time the contract runs out the average cost of each fighter will be more than $600 million per plane.That puts the total expenditure at $1.5 trillion.Do we really need eight times as many jet fighters as our imaginary enemies have combined?Particularly since our military pilots are quite probably some of, if not the best trained in the world?


China recently launched its first aircraft carrier.Actually what they did was refit a decommissioned Ukrainian carrier that was too old and useless to be used by a post-Soviet era navy, and China bought it on the cheap.This is akin to putting new tires on a 1965 Lotus 38 and expecting to win the Indy 500 with it.Still, their one active carrier puts them only 10 active carriers behind the number in our own navy.†† Only the US, Spain and Italy have more carriers in service than China.WaitÖ Spain and Italy?Yes, and Russia, the United Kingdom, as well as noted military powerhouses France, Brazil, India and Thailand have as many in service (1) as China now does, too.This is what passes for a naval threat in the Pacific.††


(Update: It has been recently learned that the carrier Kiev has been converted into a luxury hotel. So much for Chinaís naval threat.)


Thereís a line in John LaCarreís Russia House thatís poignant here, and Iím paraphrasing due to language: ďHow do you peddle an arms race when the only person you have to race against is yourself?ĒHereís the answer: our defense industry sells billions of dollars worth of weapons to other countries.France is quite possibly the only major power weíve never had a military conflict with.I guess India qualifies in that regard as well but they are pretty new to the dance.My point is that during the course of 200+ years of existence, weíve had a fight with just about everyone, which suggests to me that at some point some of the people we currently sell weapons to will become our enemy.The only reason I can think of to do that is so that they can eventually become a credible threat and therefore justify greater defense expenditures here.†† If they want weapons, I say we let them make their own.Isnít that always the Republican argument: let people do it themselves?Why not apply that to other countries as well?Many of our allies spend less on defense because the US has a military presence in their countries.Perhaps it's time we cut back a little and let them spend a little more.


The more important question is this: will our next international military conflict involve massive weapon systems and huge armies clashing on a battlefield?Or will they more likely be limited in scope like counter-terrorist actions involving special forces?Shouldnít our defense spending reflect the likely shape of our next conflict?††


Given how the wars of the future will likely be fought and the amount of help we are giving to our potential enemies, isnít it time we rethink how we spend to defend our country?If we didnít sell weapons to just about everyone on Earth and spent money only on things that will likely be useful we could easily and safely cut our defense budget by two-thirds.That proposition is scary to a lot of people because it just might reveal that our defense spending is nothing more than a glorified jobs program.And what a true disaster that would be if people thought our government created jobs.





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