President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The United States is back to defense spending, in constant dollars, that is higher than the peak spending levels under Ronald Reagan [bold mine-DL]. Only in 2010, at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was defense spending higher.
Support for expanding an already bloated, excessive military budget is broad and bipartisan, but it is also profoundly misguided. For one thing, much of this spending has had and will have little or nothing to do with actually defending the United States or its allies, and most of it isn’t necessary for that purpose. The U.S. spends this much on a military this large in order to police and attack other parts of the world, and the only reason to increase that spending for an even larger military is to do more of those things. We should call it military spending or hegemony spending or imperial spending, but we should stop the bad habit of referring to it as spending on defense.
There is no security threat comparable to the Soviet Union today that would begin to justify spending more than at the height of the Reagan build-up. Reagan’s splurging on the military was also excessive, but he could at least point to a major rival that posed a serious threat as the reason for doing it. Threats to the U.S. today are not remotely on the same scale and don’t require anything like the same outlays on the military. We are frittering away resources on a much more expensive military at a time when we don’t need one and can’t afford one. Jacking up military spending at the same time as cutting taxes makes the new expenditure that much more irresponsible, and compounding the fiscal irresponsibility is the fact that there is no good reason to do it.
Adams notes that the surge in military spending is happening only because the military is demanding it and our representatives and president have no interest in rejecting that demand:
It’s worth thinking about why defense spending is about to explode. It’s not because of some revolutionary change in the global security environment — aside from those pesky North Koreans and their nukes, America has never been so secure. It’s not because the U.S. military’s effectiveness has declined; it remains the most powerful force in the world, highly capable and very ready.
The reason the Pentagon’s budget is now on a long-term upswing is because the military has spent years loudly lobbying for such an increase while complaining about an alleged “readiness crisis.”The reason the Pentagon’s budget is now on a long-term upswing is because the military has spent years loudly lobbying for such an increase while complaining about an alleged “readiness crisis.” Complaining works, at least when the military does it, because politicians in both parties fear the military’s wrath.
Politicians are desperate to be seen as “strong” on military spending. Most fear that it will be used against them at the next election if they don’t vote for every increase, and so most of them supporting throwing more money at the Pentagon regardless of circumstances or need. Especially since most members of Congress won’t oppose the endless wars that the U.S. is fighting, they certainly aren’t going to oppose spending more on the military while those wars are going on, and so Congress’ most powerful tool for oversight and influence is never used effectively because most representatives and senators are afraid to use it. Congress’ abdication of its responsibilities in matters of war guarantees that it is useless in reining in excessive military spending.
Insofar as more than sixteen years of endless war have put too much strain on the military, the solution is not to provide more money so that the U.S. can continue waging failed and unnecessary wars. The right way to repair any damage that has been done is to stop wasting military resources on pointless wars of choice that have nothing to do with securing the U.S. Until the public and our representatives demand an end to perpetual war, we should expect the military budget to keep increasing indefinitely.