After the Cold War ended, many U.S. military leaders were worried
that the defense budget would be slashed dramatically. Gen. Colin
Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed the
concerns of many when he said he feared there would be a stampede
in Congress to shift money from the military budget to such things
as schools, housing and crime prevention.
Still, there were those who recognized the need to shift funds
from defense to social needs. The late Sen. John Tower, for instance,
said during the 1989 hearings on his unsuccessful bid to become
secretary of defense in the first Bush administration that if the
Soviet Empire collapsed, the U.S. obviously would reduce its allocation
of resources to defense. Tower was a defense hawk who, as chairman
of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was largely responsible
for the Reagan buildup, but he asserted that the United States could
be spending enormously less on defense in the absence of a Soviet
threat. "If there were no Soviet threat," he said, "we'd be maintaining
the kind of Army we had in 1938, [which was] about half the size
of what the Marine Corps is now" (or about 197,000 troops).
But the Army of today is not half the size of the Marine Corps
of a decade ago. The
active duty Army still has nearly 500,000 soldiers. Even the Marine
Corps is not half the size it was a decade ago. Today's Corps has
172,000 marines, down only about 12 percent since 1989. Nor are we
spending enormously less on defense than we spent during the Cold
War. In fact, the budget for fiscal year 2002 that President George
W. Bush just outlined to Congress calls for spending $324.8 billion,
which is $14.2 billion more than the spending slated for this year
(and the likelihood of additional spending is high).
BY STEVE ANDERSON
PHOTOS BY DEPT.
Even if one adjusts for inflation, we are again hovering in the
range of our defense spending during the Cold War. Our military
spending is nearly three times that of all our potential adversaries
combined. Yet we have not shifted enormous sums of money from defense
to such areas as education and housing. In fact, for fiscal year
2001, Congress passed a budget resolution that gives the Pentagon
51.3 percent of the total discretionary budget.
One would think the current situation has materialized because
the threats we face are growing or our adversaries are spending
more. In fact, the U.S. share of the world's military spending today
stands at about 35 percent, substantially higher than during the
Cold War. In 1985, at the height of the Reagan build-up, the United
States and the Soviet Union spent equal amounts on defense; now
Russia spends only one-sixth of what the United States spends. If
one adds in the spending of U.S. allies, the picture becomes even
more favorable to the United States. Our NATO allies spend three
times more on defense than Russia. Israel spends as much as Iraq
and Iran combined. South Korea spends nine times more on defense
than North Korea. And Japan spends more on defense than China.
The main reason political leaders from both parties and continue
to approve ever larger expenditures on defense than necessary is
that they have accepted a series of misleading assumptions, or half-truths,
about the current state of America's military. Before developing
a more realistic budget, it is important to confront these myths
MYTH #1: Defense spending should be increased because it consumes
the smallest portion of the GDP and the smallest percentage of the
overall budget since the beginning of World War II.
This argument has been advanced by President Bush, Sen. John McCain
(R-Arizona) and former Army Chief of Staff Dennis Reimer. While
this statement is true as far as it goes, it tells us more about
the tremendous growth of our economy, the rising cost of health
care, and the aging of the population than it does about national
security. Moreover, it implies that the U.S. military is now in
as bad shape as it was in 1940. What has been forgotten is that,
at the beginning of World War II, the U.S. military was was one-tenth
the size of Germany's, half the size of Japan's, and ranked 16th
in the world.
MYTH #2: The defense budget has been reduced over the past decade
to help lower the budget deficit. Now that the federal budget has
a hefty surplus, defense spending should be increased.
The defense budget has been reduced from the lofty levels of the
Reagan years primarily because the Cold War ended and the Soviet
Union collapsed. Moreover, the total combined defense expenditures
in 1999 of the "countries of concern" (formerly "rogue states")--Iran,
Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Cuba and Syria--was $13.8 billion, or
about 4 percent of the U.S. defense budget. The United States and
its allies account for 65 percent of the world's total military
MYTH #3: Defense spending should increase because there is a
defense programs and defense resources.
Defense Secretary Donald
H. Rumsfled has
ordered a bottom-up review.
The Joint Chiefs claim there is a $150 billion gap between current
defense funding and what is needed. The fact is the Joint Chiefs
will never be satisfied. Had we listened to them during the Cold
War, this nation would have spent several trillion dollars more,
throwing money at all sorts of nonexistent gaps in our defense.
MYTH #4: The military needs more funding to implement its two-war
Such a position--the need to be able to conduct two major conflicts
simultaneously--defies both logic and history. When the United States
was bogged down in Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf wars, no other nation
threatened U.S. vital interests elsewhere in the world. At least
two bipartisan groups established by Congress since the end of the
Cold War have rejected the two-war strategy, simply calling it a
justification for larger forces. Yet it remains a guiding policy
of the U.S. military.
MYTH #5: Deploying troops in peacekeeping operations like Bosnia
has diverted large sums of money from core defense functions.
In fact, peacekeeping operations consumed less than 2 percent of
the defense budget during the Clinton administration. Only 10,000
U.S. troops, out of a total force of 2.3 million, are currently
involved in these small-scale contingencies. Furthermore, the threat
from regional "rogues" has been wildly overestimated and is rapidly
MYTH #6: The Pentagon needs more money because it is facing
an investment shortfall.
The secretary of defense and the Joint Chiefs claim the Pentagon
has needed $60 billion a year in new equipment to keep its forces
modernized. But during the past five years, the Pentagon on average
has spent less than $50 billion on new equipment. Moreover, the
$60 billion dedicated to new equipment in the fiscal year 2001 budget
has put the U.S. military in an arms race with itself.
For example, the amount of money earmarked for new equipment assumes
that the Defense Department must replace its current generation
of tactical aircraft, the F-16, F-15, F-14 and F/A-18 C/D, with
the newer, more sophisticated and much more expensive, F-22 and
F/A-18 E/F, even though the current aircraft are already the best
in the world. Similarly, the Pentagon claims it needs a new generation
of submarines, even though the current generation has many years
of useful life left--and no next generation of Soviet submarines
to threaten it. Finally, the current $60 billion benchmark ignores
the fact that the U.S. procurement budget is 40 percent more than
all of our allies combined, 75 percent more than either Russia or
China, and nine times greater than that of Iraq and North Korea
MYTH #7: The readiness of our armed forces is declining because
we are not spending enough on "operations and maintenance," which
is the money it takes to keep weapon systems functioning.
In fiscal year 2000, real operations and maintenance spending per
capita was 10 percent higher than at the height of the Reagan build-up,
exceeding $100 billion for an active duty force of 1.36 million.
Moreover, the armed services are still using the same readiness
criteria as they did during the Cold War to justify additional expenditures.
Even if the mission-capable rates of tactical aircraft have declined
by 5 percent or even 10 percent compared to 1985, as some have claimed,
that's not a real problem unless the North Korean or Iraqi military
is 90 to 95 percent as capable as the Soviets were.
MYTH #8: The services are failing to meet their recruiting goals,
even though they have lowered the quality standards they maintained
in the '80s.
On the contrary, the armed services now have a higher percentage
of "high quality accessions" (high school graduates and people scoring
average or above average on the armed forces qualifications test)
than at any time during the Reagan years.
MYTH #9: Personnel are leaving the services because a much higher
percentage of the force is deployed overseas than during the Cold
The Pentagon wants to replace
already are the best in thes world.
Some have claimed that the military has been deployed overseas
once every nine weeks in the past decade. The fact of the matter
is that in the '80s more than 500,000 (or 25 percent) people of
an active duty force of 2.1 million were deployed outside the United
States. Today that number is about 230,000 or 15 percent of an active
force of 1.36 million.
MYTH # 10: There is a pay gap between the military and civilian
sectors; therefore, pay and benefits for all military personnel
must be increased substantially.
As evidence of the gap, proponents of a pay raise claim that the
military suffers a 13 percent pay gap relative to the private sector.
They also argue that this has created a situation in which 12,000
military people are on food stamps.
But as Cindy Williams, former head of the Congressional Budget
Office's National Security Division, has demonstrated, there really
is no pay gap. The majority of the men and women in the armed services
earn more than 75 percent of their civilian counterparts. An entering
recruit with a high school diploma makes $22,000, while an officer
earns $34,000. After 20 years, the salary of an enlisted man exceeds
$50,000, while that of officers tops $100,000. In addition, throughout
their careers, military personnel are eligible for a wide variety
of bonuses and receive a generous package of fringe benefits (free
health care, generous noncontributory retirement, etc.).
While it is true that some 12,000 military personnel are technically
eligible for food stamps, the Wall Street Journal has pointed
out that the vast majority of them are individuals with large families
in the lower ranks who live on-base. Because they live on-base in
rent-free quarters, they do not receive their housing allowance.
If they lived off-base, or if their compensation were adjusted to
reflect the fair market value of their housing, most of these people
would not be eligible for food stamps. Correcting these distortions
reduces the number to less than 1,000 soldiers.
None of this analysis is meant to indicate that the military does
not face challenges. But these challenges or problems can be met
without throwing more and more money at the Pentagon. The majority
of the problems faced by the Pentagon are self-inflicted. In the
'90s, the Defense Department conducted three reviews of its strategy
and force structure. Despite the fact that these reviews were conducted
by three different secretaries of defense, they did not result in
any fundamental changes. Structurally, the force of 2000 is little
different from what it was a decade ago. Although the force is somewhat
smaller, it is in essence a "Cold War-Lite" force. The troops drive
the same tanks, fly the same planes, and sail the same ships as
they did in 1990. Moreover, they use the same procurement strategy
and employ the same organizational and operational models.
While such a development is understandable from a bureaucratic
and political view, it has given America the worst of all possible
worlds. Not only do we spend more than is necessary on defense,
we get far less than we should for our money. A true bottom-up review
that resulted in a realistic budget would give us a more effective
defense at a greatly reduced cost. What would this budget look like?
The United States could have a realistic defense budget for around
$260 billion, which is about 20 percent less than the $324.8 billion
budget proposed for fiscal year 2002 by President Bush.
The reasons for the current excess in U.S. defense spending are
clear. Our leaders have accepted a number of half-truths about defense
spending, the current shape of our armed forces and the threats
to our national security. They have not shown the political courage
to stand up to the Pentagon and its supporters who wittingly or
unwittingly mouth these misleading statements. If these trends continue,
the United States is likely to spend at least $500 billion more
on defense in the coming decade than is necessary to provide for
our national security. Although we are a wealthy nation, and currently
have a budget surplus, this is still a large amount of money that
could be put to much better use elsewhere.
Lawrence J. Korb is vice president and director of studies
at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 1981 to 1985, he served
in the Reagan administration as assistant secretary of defense for
manpower, reserve affairs and logistics. This article is excerpted
and updated from "A Realistic Defense Budget for the New Millennium,"
a report produced by Korb in conjunction with Business Leaders for
Sensible Priorities (www.businessleaders.org).