Defense Spending Crisis

The first duty of government, as Adam Smith wrote in 1776, is defense which can only be accomplished by means of a military force. Our federal government is Constitutionally charged “to provide for the common defense.” Yet that essential function is literally on the verge of collapse, descending into a proverbial black hole of debt, skyrocketing costs, poor planning, Beltway politics, and wartime wear-and-tear.

And millions — many on the government dole and their political heroes who champion abstract “change” — are ignoring the descent, mindless of what the end result will mean for us and our childrens’ future.
Though our military personnel are presently dominating the battlefield in all corners, their ability to continue to do so is no longer a “given.” In fact, the American military force-structure is so broken, our front-line air-superiority fighters are literally falling out of the sky. Pilots have been killed. Entire Air Force fighter fleets have been grounded. And airmen have been cut from the force just to pay some of the bills.

That’s just one of many problems facing our aging Air Force: desperately in need of recapitalization (also known as resetting — essentially putting a new engine in an aging F-15 Eagle) and modernization (replacing an F-15 with a brand-new F-22 Raptor.). Then there are the myriad recap and mod problems facing our worn-out Army and Marine Corps – still fighting tooth-to-eyeball street battles in Iraq, and heavily engaged in mountain warfare operations in Afghanistan. According to Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation our Navy could soon become “a mere shadow of its former self.”

The vast majority of the American people are clueless as to just how desperately we need to start rapidly refitting, resetting, and rebuilding our land, sea, and air forces, how little we spend on those forces as a percent of gross domestic product (GDP), and how closely our potential high-intensity conflict adversaries like China and Russia are monitoring our descent.

According to a January editorial, The Defense Rusts, in Investor’s Business Daily:

After a Missouri Air National Guard F-15 came apart in early November, the Air Force grounded its fleet of 450 F-15Cs. At a time when Russia was resuming its long-range bomber patrols that it had curtailed after our victory in the Cold War, the Canadian air force volunteered its F-18s to patrol the skies over and near Alaska.

Frightening? It should be, because military recapitalization/modernization will be the greatest challenge facing anyone who wins the presidency in November. Yet no presidential candidate is presently talking about it.

Some Defense Department officials have expressed fears that the candidates don’t understand the dynamics much less the criticality of recapitalization/modernization; and many military experts are expressing concerns that the cavalier attitude toward Defense on the part of candidates, Congress, and the White House is leading us toward a potentially irrecoverable national security disaster.

“After 17 years of war [Gulf War I through the current war on terror] and the massive downsizing under Bill Clinton, our military is a hollow shell,” says Brig. Gen. Jim Cash (USAF, ret.), a wartime fighter pilot and former vice commander of 7th Air Force.
“Military personnel are tired, because of multiple tours of duty in the Middle-East — again due to Clinton downsizing — and our equipment is worn out.”

The reasons are many and intertwined.

President Clinton did gut the military. The Cold War was over when he took office, and he was looking for that politically-sweet “peace dividend” — the so-called procurement holiday — which all presidents have sought at the conclusion of each of America’s conflicts in the 20th century.

“Now Congress and some segments of the American public are posturing for a post-Iraq-drawdown peace-dividend with a focus away from Defense and a move toward domestic spending,” says Eaglen. “That means a dramatically cut Defense budget.”

Currently, the United States spends approximately four percent of its GDP on Defense. “Yet most Americans believe we spend between 20 and 40 percent of our GDP on Defense,” says Eaglen.

Last week, Pres. Bush presented his Fiscal Year 2009 Defense budget to Congress, requesting $515 billion (not including an additional $70 billion in immediate funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan), roughly 3.4 percent of GDP.

For perspective, the U.S. was spending a whopping 34.5 percent of GDP for Defense in World War II. We spent 11.7 at the height of the Korean War, nearly 10 percent at the height of the Vietnam War, six percent under Pres. Reagan in 1986, and 4.6 percent in 1991, the year of Gulf War I.

Though grudgingly admitting the current percentages are low, naysayers continue to make a case against current and proposed amounts. They argue that most of America doesn’t feel it is at war. America cannot comprehend the necessity of such a high dollar amount for recap/mod when so many domestic problems need addressing. And America wants and deserves the peace dividend. Problem is, there are huge bills to be paid and new equipment desperately needed. “There is no peacetime dynamic in a post-9/11 world,” Eaglen says. “This idea that we’re all entitled to a peace dividend is a myth.”

Over the next several weeks, we will examine the problems and the time-sensitivity associated with recapitalization and modernization. We will talk to experts and look at specifics of the force structure, including what our land, sea, and air forces need, what they’re likely to get, and why the presidential candidates must address and debate this enormous national-security challenge over the coming months.