Will We Ever Reduce Military Spending?

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When President Obama announced a spending freeze on the federal budget for the next five years in his State of the Union address, he left out any specifics on reductions in military funding. Yet, as many national debt-watchers are aware, the money given to the military still accounts for almost a quarter of all government spending, by even the most conservative estimates. The United State's military expenditures exceed that of every other nation on earth, combined. Critics occasionally point out that the spending hasn't quite led to smashing successes overseas in the past few years, either.

Regardless of your feelings on the military, the deficit looms. Reducing the size and scope government is all the rage--what are the chances of the military's budget getting reduced? Just yesterday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the offensive with Congress over some potential cuts. How did we come to outspend the rest of the world on defense? Are our armed forces prepared for the battles we may face in the twenty-first century? And how do we balance our national security interests with the budget? These are some questions being asked.

  • Don't Expect Any Major Cuts  Military spending in America is a 'sacred cow' that will be very difficult to touch, writes Andrew J. Bacevich on Mother Jones.
By 1950 at the latest, those policymakers (with Kennan by then a notable dissenter) had concluded that the possession and deployment of military power held the key to preserving America's exalted status. The presence of US forces abroad and a demonstrated willingness to intervene, whether overtly or covertly, just about anywhere on the planet would promote stability, ensure US access to markets and resources, and generally serve to enhance the country's influence in the eyes of friend and foe alike--this was the idea, at least.
  • Republicans Increasingly Divided Over Defense Spending, reports Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker at the New York Times. "This deficit that we have threatens our very way of life, and everything needs to be on the table," Rep. Chris Gibson says in the article, a Tea Party aligned congressman and retired Army colonel from New York's Hudson Valley.
  • Tea Partiers Will Fall In Line With Defense Hawks  Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway is skeptical that the Tea Party will put their actions where their anti-big government mouths are.
Notwithstanding the libertarian tendencies in the movement, these people are, at heart, populist Republicans, and they’ll adopt the same flag-waving-as-foreign-policy attitude that we’ve seen from the GOP in recent years. Already we’ve seen signs of this as Sarah Palin has taken it upon herself to make it clear within the Tea Party movement that fiscal conservatism shouldn’t apply when it comes to defense spending, and I expect that the same argument will be made when it comes to the foreign policy adventures that the Palin/Hannity/Limbaugh wing of the party seems to love so much.
  • The Constitution Is Misconstrued in Argument for Defense  "First of all, the Constitution empowers Congress to raise an army and a navy, it's true, but it doesn't actually create a duty ... to do so," argues the blog Cup O'Joel. "In fact, it limits army appropriations to just two years at a time. Why? So that the Congress can frequently discuss whether the size and footing of that army is appropriate to the needs of the nation." He quotes a key passage from Federalist 28: "We should recollect that the extent of the military force must, at all events, be regulated by the resources of the country," it says.
  • Brains Not Bombs, says Harlan Ullman at the New Atlanticist. "The traditional U.S. solution to military threats has generally been to spend rather than think our way clear of danger," he notes. But "brains win wars. That means elevating education to provide the learning knowledge and understanding for our military to be better able to cope with a future that will be almost certainly more demanding. Thinking more, while spending less, can and will work."
  • Time For a 21st Century Military, Gary Hart writes in this January's Atlantic.
Warfare itself is changing. Organized violence by nation-states, though still plausible, is diminishing. Instead, unconventional conflicts involving stateless nations, tribes, clans, gangs, ethnic nationalists, and religious fundamentalists are clearly rising. Sooner or later some lethal combination of drug cartels, arms syndicates, international mafias, and terrorist groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction. All of these factors require a more sophisticated understanding of security than that which defined the Cold War. Neither al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Taliban in Pakistan, the mafia in Russia, nor the drug cartels in Mexico fear our strategic weapons, large Army divisions, or carrier task groups. We need a new statutory basis to do for 21st-century security what the National Security Act of 1947 did: lay the legal groundwork for defensive policies that address the realities of a new era.
  • The Hawkish Argument  "The blood of our troops is much more precious than tax dollars saved. The left has long condemned 'gold-plating' our military. But in Desert Storm, the virtue of this investment was clear. Despite facing a huge, battle-tested army with the best technology the Soviets could provide, our weapons systems were so advanced that America lost almost no casualties in achieving total victory," says Bruce Walker at the American Thinker.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.