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Analysis of U.S. Military Spending

By Arkady in MLP
Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 10:11:31 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

TomPaine.Com and Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities (this link requires JavaScript) have a recent analysis of American military spending by Dr. Lawrence Korb.

According to TomPaine's introduction:

Lawrence Korb is Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Dr. Korb served as Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration.

What makes his reports interesting, then, is that they come down so heavily on the decision that the American military budget is far out of reasonable scale. It would seem reasonable to expect a former Reagen Defense official to side with the "big military" priorities the country has followed consistently, even after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The fact that he does not, of course, explains why it's being published at TomPaine.Com and BLfSP.

The summary can be found on TomPaine.Com and Korb's complete text can be found here on BLfSP.


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Analysis of U.S. Military Spending | 24 comments (7 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
They sure lay it on thick, don't they? (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by marlowe on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 01:18:18 PM EST

Stars and stripes everywhere, like they're almost literally wrapping themselves in the flag. Gratuitous Javascript animation. And slightly overwrought rhetoric.

Well, I guess that's the standard for Internet political advocacy. Or should I say propaganda?

-- The Americans are the Jews of the 21st century. Only we won't go as quietly to the gas chambers. --
Summary (4.66 / 3) (#18)
by bjrubble on Mon Jan 22, 2001 at 06:47:00 PM EST

I found the report very interesting, so here is my attempt at the summary some found lacking originally.

The Reagan strategy of the Cold War (although I personally doubt it was an intentional strategy) was to spend the USSR into bankruptcy. This worked quite well, but the post-Cold War payoff -- when we would presumably bring defense spending back into line with what we actually need -- has floundered.

We currently spend about 90% of our late-80s defense budget, and there are noises from various quarters that this is too deep a cut, that we are sacrificing readiness. This report examines various claims made in support of this position, and finds that while there are some areas that are currently underfunded, most of the problems are either poor prioritizing or overinflated goals.

One central thesis is that our spending has not changed with the changing world. The major military powers we face are tiny compared to the Soviet military at its height -- Russia's defense budget is 15% of what it was at its peak, and the US now accounts for 35% of the world's military spending. In addition, the Pentagon continues to plan around a "two major conflicts" contingency, when this is not a widely accepted metric and is in fact a more aggressive target than we used during the Cold War. Similarly, many other proclaimed "shortfalls" in military recruiting and preparedness are based on targets that have actually increased in the past decade.

The other primary argument is that spending is skewed. A large part of this can be laid at the feet of Congress, who continue to push through pork-barrel defense projects even after the Pentagon has denied a need for them. But the main problem is the spending strategy, which is where the report makes most of its specific recommendations.

The US should purchase only a token number of upgraded tactical aircraft (F-22, F/A-18 C/D), which would replace what are already the premier fighters in the world at a cost of several times more, and wait for the rollout of the Joint Tactical Fighter (less expensive, more advanced, more flexible) in 2008. The Navy should be buying arsenal ships (floating cruise missile batteries) rather than aircraft carriers. The Army should reduce its purchase of heavy tanks and artillery designed for fighting the Red Army. The Marines should get off their V-22 kick, and buy Comanche and Blackhawk helicopters instead. And, of course, missile defense systems are decades away from field readiness and can bring nothing but political brinksmanship if we follow current deployment plans. In general, the military should take money from expensive and/or experimental weapon systems designed for Cold War conflicts, and use that money to maintain and extend its current arsenal and develop weapons with more applicability to today's world.

I'm not an expert on defense, other than the normal fascination with military hardware, but I found this report quite informative and convincing. Although I suspect much of what it says is already known within the military, but is simply difficult to change due to the sheer inertia of those organizations.

people don't seem to understand this (none / 0) (#22)
by jeanlucpikachu on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 02:09:01 PM EST

And yes, we all know the Russians have no money, fine, but have you seen the Russian fighters lately? Specifically the Mig 1.42... Superior in almost every way to the F-22, it can do a 180 degree turn almost on a dime... pretty damn sweet. No we don't have all the best military technology...

Capt. Jean-Luc Pikachu AIM: jeanlucpikachu
[ Parent ]
MiG 1.42 (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by bjrubble on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:00:07 PM EST

Sigh, when I was a lad, all Soviet planes had an integer designation: even numbers for strategic planes, odd for tactical. This 1.42 stuff disturbs and confuses me.

It is a pretty amazing plane, but in the end I don't think it will ever be the top dog. It compares favorably with the F-22, but by its likely production date it will compete with the JTF, which will likely outperform it and cost well under half the price.

That is, of course, if the Pentagon doesn't blow its wad on the F-22 and F-18 updates, and can afford to actually deploy the JTF.

[ Parent ]
Does it really matter? (4.00 / 2) (#20)
by scriptkiddie on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 12:10:03 AM EST

Okay, first I'd like to make clear that I'm unambiguously for lower military spending.

But at the same time, I don't think it really matters. Firstly, the military is a large portion of the country's discretionary budget, but only a tiny percentage of the actual budget. That means that of the money Congress votes on, most goes to the military, but your taxes are spent on many things in addition. I forget the numbers but the military is around 5-10% of the actual budget I believe. If the military suddenly ceased to exist, taxes wouldn't really drop that much.

Secondly, the military IS going to spend that money. Government spending basically NEVER declines significantly. It's very hard to reduce spending in any given department, because by that time the generals and commanders have already made friends with your representative...

Thirdly, military spending impacts the economy at large quite a bit. I'd wager that the money made back in taxes from tens of thousands of military contractors, plus millions of college graduates from ROTC and military colleges, probably approaches the military's own budget.

If anything, I've been disappointed that a lot of this spending goes to massive new technology initiatives, rather than making military life a better option. There are millions of people in this country who don't have the social support - education, contacts, qualifications - to get a professional career, and I think joining the military would be an amazingly great option for them, seeing as they can still learn a trade before it's too late, see a bit of the world, and live in a strong community without the crime that might emperil them in everyday life. Consider the military welfare, except that Republicans support it. (Note: I realize that the military can't even fill it's ranks right now. Maybe if the pay was a bit better ... and a recession could speed things up too...)

But I'd really like to reinforce that while I support a large military, I don't support actually using it in wartime. I believe that soldiers on the ground can be a powerful diplomatic force, keeping peace and ensuring civility in many places where NGOs and the Peace Corps won't touch.

Of course, it's nice to have a bit of a military for minor wars, but let's face it, if there's any kind of instability in the PRC the US Army is toast. Last time America got on China's bad side twenty million people died. That's why diplomacy is vital in China.

Which leads me to another reason we should not even think about deploying missile defense. My personal guess is that one reason Powell & Assoc. are so strongly for missile defense is that they know how powerful our weapons are, but they don't know what other countries are going to be able to use them against us. So we could either annoy them by putting up a massive missile shield, which might work but if it doesn't millions will die, or we could actually try to engage countries around the world in active trade and cultural exchange, which might cost more (free trade will mean lost American jobs) but would pay off by ensuring that no one really wants to aim missiles over here, so we could ignore this wholee issue with the ICBMs and concentrate at home...

I could go on forever but it would be even less related to the subject at hand.

Skeptical of SDI backers' motivations (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by Field Marshall Stack on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 12:39:58 PM EST

My personal guess is that one reason Powell & Assoc. are so strongly for missile defense is that they know how powerful our weapons are, but they don't know what other countries are going to be able to use them against us.
Personally, I've suspected for a long time that the only reason anyone in power supports SDI is that it'll channel billions of dollars to their buddies in the defense industry. Of course, I'm a fairly cynical person, but I really can't find any "honest" explanation for supporting a system which not only infuriates everyone else on the planet, but which doesn't even work.
Ben Allen, hiway@speakeasy.org
"Nobody ever lends money to a man with a sense of humor"
-Peter Tork
[ Parent ]
Some truth and a lot of shortsightedness. (4.66 / 3) (#24)
by MrAcheson on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:28:18 PM EST

This report has a lot of truth to it. I think it is reasonable to pull back much of our defense forces from Europe with the end of the Cold War. There is no good reason for them to be there without a strong Russia.

Other than that most of the rest of the report is simply pointing out obvious facts like the Pentagon is wasteful and the Generals want too much. Well what a shock that the federal government is wasteful and that management wants more money for their departments. It is the job of the civilian government to reign in the generals and give them a budget which is sane.

The other problems I had was in the shortsighted nature of most of the assumptions being made. Like:

1) The Two War Strategy: The US is a country which strides two oceans. It is therefore extremely reasonable and realistic to have to fight one major conflict in each ocean at once. We did it in both WWII and the Spanish-American War. This is a necessary defense principle considering our geography. The idea that "well it hasn't happened for a while so lets get rid of it" is short sighted. After all we didn't really see the Japanese threat before it happened did we.

2) The One and a Half War Strategy: This says that we should be able to fight a stalling action and a war at the same time. If we get hit by two wars at once our superior american industrial power will bail us out. This is baloney. We don't have superior american industrial power any more. Our industry has been stripped down and farmed out to factories overseas that work cheaper. We can't count on something we don't have and the generals know it, which is why they are pushing R&D so hard right now. We cannot win a war of attrition like WWII today so our only choice is to make damn sure we are prepared to fight it differently.

3) Armies are built of money: Guess what, a third world nation can built as big an army as we can for significantly less because their people work cheaper and they therefore have to pay their soldiers less. Armies are built out of people not dollars and the country with more military personnel tends to win (like in Vietnam).

4) Neglecting Attrition: AK variants are made of stamped metal and are cheap but as good as M-16s in most ways (except weight) and better in others (like ruggedness). Similarly anti-tank/helicopter/anything weapons are really cheap in comparison to what they are designed to kill. Enough armed men and women will kill anything. It doesn't matter if they're stupid or badly trained, enough of them will still kill you. Guess what, the germans had better training and equipment through most of WWII but we still won. It is entirely possible to put together a huge third world army carrying inexpensive but servicable weapons and have them be a serious threat if the geography is right. We didn't put ground forces in bosnia for a reason, they would have been cut to bits. Likewise we got out butts kicked in Somalia because we underestimated them and their shear numbers. We lucked out in the Iraq because Saddam didn't attack when he had the chance before our heavy equipment was in place.

5) Peacekeeping is cheap: No its not. Most of the army's money is not spent on paying combat troops, its spent on logistics and support for combat troops. Having lots of people spread out is actually more expensive than having more people all in one place. Therefore peace keeping in a hundred places is more expensive than having those same people positioned in a only few because support is significantly easier in the latter case.

To put it simply there is a lot that this report doesn't tell you. I remember Ross Perot arguing for deep cuts in the military because Germany spent significantly less than the US. Of course he neglected that Germany has less perimeter to defend and that Germany has American military bases providing them with a measure of protection above that of purely their own troops.

These opinions do not represent those of the US Army, DoD, or US Government.

Analysis of U.S. Military Spending | 24 comments (7 topical, 17 editorial, 0 hidden)
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