It is a little known fact the United States spends only about 4% of our GDP on defense. So while defense cuts might put a dent in the deficit it would only make up a small portion. And as you probably know, what is cut from the defense budget are veterans benefits and healthcare. But any cuts to veterans benefits and healthcare of active duty military personnel is very negligent. Besides, the real money in the defense budget goes to military equipment, which is not being cut. Now there are probably a couple of reasons for this.
One, it could be related to jobs. Companies like Boeing, General Electric, Sikorsky, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin employ an awful lot of people. Take for instance, the Joint Strike Fighter program, which is providing thousands of jobs to American manufacturers. These jets aren’t just intended to serve the United States military but also other militaries around the globe. That’s a lot of planes to be made. But if the United States suddenly decides to not purchase the Joint Strike Fighter and instead retrofit and renovate its current fighter fleet, thousands of Americans might be out of a job. But at the same time, a focus on retrofitting and renovating those aircraft we already have might help counter this subsequent job deficit. Defense contractors also figure into the equation. To put it bluntly, if the United States is not involved in a combat zone, they are relatively unemployed. This is another side of defense that cost money, as the contracts the government agrees to pay for runs into the billions of dollars. And the same can be said of those who work for the Electric Boat Company. If again, we decide we don’t need any new submarines we might have an awful lot of angry people in Groton, Connecticut or in Newport News, Virginia.
Another reason might be this perceived fear that cuts to equipment will somehow leave us unable to win a hypothetical war with Russia, China, Iran, or North Korea. That is a legitimate concern. But in actuality, Russia and China don’t have the economic might to engage us in prolonged warfare. That’s not even accounting for the allies who would join us in a conventional conflict. If anything, they are likely more concerned with their wallets as opposed to abstract notions of nationalism. And Iran and North Korea are wild cards. But these countries have more than the United States to worry about in case they decide to go all out. Even if the United States has a leaner military, we still have allies that could shoulder the burden as well. The United States will no longer be fighting conventional wars and will likely seek to direct funds saved by cutting contracting, veterans benefits, and procurement of aircraft and ships to on-the-ground warfighting technology that supports our troops.
But we must recognize that military spending in peacetime is almost insignificant in its impact on the general economy. The problem arises when we actually fight wars. Costs might be relatively manageable in peacetime but when we’re at war those costs increase exponentially. Ask any person versed in military affairs and they’ll tell you that winning wars is all about logistics. Feeding the troops cost money, fueling vehicles cost money, housing troops cost money, buying ammunition costs money, repairing vehicles costs money, and defense contracts cost money. I’m sure you get the point.
So while the assertion that we only spend 4% of our GDP is true, it does not reflect the extraneous costs we’ve incurred as a result of action in Afghanistan, Iraq, and our general force structure abroad. I’d also be interested in finding out the cost of day to day operations for our forces in Japan, South Korea, and Western Europe. I’d venture to say those operational costs are not accounted for in the entire defense budget. And let’s not forget the “Black” military projects associated with DARPA and other agencies that we will never hear about. Who knows how much money is being spent there? What Obama essentially wants to do is streamline our force structure so it is lighter, faster, and more mobile than that it’s predecessors and potential enemies.
Our current focus is on terrorism and winning that conflict will not depend on who has the most high tech toys or the largest number of troops. It will depend on smart spending and not falling for the trick of being bogged down in decades-long conflicts. We saw what happened in Vietnam and we see what is happening in Afghanistan, two fitting examples of how poorly armed forces can wreak significant economic damage on a vastly superior foe. War has changed and Obama is trying to use a scalpel to better prepare our military for the asymmetric conflicts of the future.
My point is that cutting the defense budget might seem unpopular. Hell, it might even make us uncomfortable. After all, we are society that holds our uniformed men and women in high esteem. But let us not forget that cutting entitlement programs is also unpopular and likewise considered unfair. But difficult changes need to be made and cutting defense is simply one of them.