This node is part of the 13 challenges for the 13th generation.

In the post-Cold War world, the US military is no longer structured to meet real national security challenges and is wasting scarce resources.

Reshape our military to meet emerging global threats, ensure a strong national defense, and save taxpayers billions.

The United States spends more than $280 billion annually on the military. We do not need to spend so much. In a historic review of U.S. defense forces, Clinton’s former secretary of defense, Les Aspin, said that “the framework that guided our security policy during the Cold War is inadequate for the future.” Citing a “potential failure to build a strong and growing U.S. economy” as one of the four key threats facing America in the post-Cold War era, Aspin called for a shift of resources “to meet the dangers to American … prosperity and seize the opportunity to accelerate U.S. economic growth.”

The cost of a wrong-size military is staggering:

  • A single B-2 bomber would buy 424 new elementary schools for 254,000 children.
  • Rather than buying 21 additional Trident II missiles, we could provide prenatal care for 2,127,000 low-income mothers.

To ensure that our generation and those to follow have a strong military and a strong economic future, we must slowly reduce military spending to $200 billion. Defense experts from the Brookings Institute and the Center for Defense Information agree that by spending $200 billion a year on the military the U.S. would still be able to fulfill effectively all of its core military missions with only one change: our allies would have to take on a fair share of their own defense.

Argh. I can't let this one go by unargued. :-)

First of all, let me state for the record that I, too, am in favor of a smaller military budget. I am not at present able to give you a preferred method for getting there. However, I feel compelled to bring up the darker side of military budget arguments, especially the well-meaning but pernicious "Well, gee, a single B2 would buy (insert gazillions of Good Things here)" sorts of assertions.

While it is true that the sticker price of the B2 Spirit could, if allocated to other areas, purchase a staggering amount of items that are prima facie more important, that's not the whole story. While I suffer from the typical male neato syndrome, and feel that the B2 is a simply beautiful airplane, I don't think that simply not buying it would help, even though I agree it isn't really defending anything in the sense of usefully protecting us. Why? A couple of reasons.

First of all, let's look at the money spent on this aircraft (or any such system; the B2 is merely one example). Yup, it's a lot - between $400 million and $1.6 billion per copy, depending on whose numbers you believe. Any way you cut it, that's some serious cashish.

But where would that money have gone?

To Northrop-Grumman, sure (or whatever Defense Agglomerate Du Jour owns them now). But then? Well, let's follow the trail-

…and more. So. What then? Is the money wasted? Yup, some of it…but a great deal of it filters down to the workers, execs, lobbyists and their families. And from thence…back into the economy. There is an enormous chunk of society and the economy (read: Military-industrial complex) that survives on these monies. If you simply ceased buying the B2 and put in an order for your umpty-bazillion elementary schools, what would happen? Sure, the money would go to teachers and builders and custodians and booksellers and suppliers too…but there's one problem. That market would need to expand wildly to absorb those funds. Wildly expanding industries/markets tend to waste large amounts of the capital that is causing them to balloon - witness the crash. Not that the investment may not be worth it in the long run - just something to consider, especially in light of the next point.

What happens to those people who still live in the mil-ind complex? They suddenly can't pay bills, buy supplies, feed their kids, pay taxes to send their kids to school, etc. I haven't much sympathy for the enormo-conglomorates that own our defense industry, but I do for their workers; and in addition, all the remaining resources of that industry would be thrown into lobbying and influence in an attempt to preserve the business and the well-being of (at least) its executives. This results in corporate welfare - companies being paid an enormous amount to do, well, not much.

There are some who argue that this has already happened to the defense industry. Some parts of it, sure. The B2 may in fact be a prime example. Looked at in this light, it's not an airplane that costs around a billion each, but a big group of people, companies, small children, pets and townships and tax bases that cost that much to keep going - paid for in handy increments of airplanes. There is a need for improvement, no doubt. However, I believe that we need to build the schools the smart way - by looking at the process, and finding ways to ensure that more of that enormous stream of resources comes out the other end and goes into building schools. Why? Because I believe it will be more efficient to channel the delta of that stream of dollars as it runs into the sea of the economy than to try to divert the headwaters near the source, and force the dollars to cut a whole new trail through arid land.

Sorry for the muddled (or is it muddied?) analogy; best I can do after a few drinks this late. ;-)

So please, let's have this argument, and let's try our best to ensure that monies end up in responsible places like in schools and medical care. But let's be careful how we do it. Do you honestly believe that if you simply handed our current healthcare system the price of a B2 bomber and told it to use the funds for care for unwed mothers that more than maybe 1% of it would actually be used for that purpose? Hell no. The first thing that happens when the government decides to spend large chunks of money on a purpose or industry is that an enormous bureaucracy builds itself up around that expenditure, absorbing funds. We've already got huge bureaucracies built up along both the defense and medical care/social service 'budget rivers' - let's do our damndest to fix those (or destroy them) before simply diverting monies in a fashion that will absorb much of them into the process of building a new one.

Soberty, I agree with you - I just want the argument to have as much info as possible in it.

Dataknife notes helpfully that the 'trickle-down' effect described above is considered, in Economics, to be a 'multiplier' of 7. In other words, every dollar spent by the government puts seven into the economy. fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

It's worth noting that whilst the US continues down the same path of military spending as it has since NSC-68, the rest of the world is busily designing a relevant post-Cold War fighting force.

Possibly the most graphic of these moves has been New Zealand's scrapping of its air combat capability. After an earlier decision to ditch a contract for 28 American F-16 fighters, the Government decided to phase out the air force altogether. Priority in military spending will be given to the army's ability to participate in peacekeeping and other multinational operations. At this point, I can hear you thinking " New Zealand? What does it matter?", which is partly why I began with the Sun Tzu quote.

In the post-Cold War era, where the chance of fighting a war on two fronts against other superpowers is zero, the supremely excellent army needs to break the enemy's resistance without resorting to warfare. This does not negate the need for an army per se, but relies on the army's resources to be allocated away from fighting wars towards peacekeeping, and multilateral involvement - like the example of New Zealand.

The ability to Cluster bomb from a B2 until you run out of targets never wins wars. Long term and mutual involvement does.

As with so many other nodes, this one seems a little quaint in light of the attacks on the world trade center on September 11, 2001. A proper question now might be: what is the proper configuration for an anti-terrorism fighting force?

Contrary to many people's earlier opinon, events in Afghanistan have shown that planes, aircraft carriers and cruise missiles do have their place. Cluster bombing from B-52s sometimes has a place. It's clear, however, that an anti-terrorism fighting force has different needs from a WWII-style fighting force.

I'm no expert, here are some things that seem apparent in light of recent events:

  • Intelligence - it all starts with intelligence. Both high-tech surveilence and spies on the ground. The US ignored this for a couple of decades and it hurt us quite a lot.
  • Precision Strike Capability - it's essential to be able to strike a terrorist base without killing the shepherd that lives next door. For this you want weapons of many varying degrees of power, from little bombs that blow up a shack to big bunker busters that can take out hardened underground hideouts.
  • Special Forces - there are a lot of jobs where you don't want to kill indiscriminately or even at all. It's vital to have highly trained units that can infiltrate, capture individuals, collect intelligence, work with native populations, strike at infrastructure and so on.
  • Peacekeeping Forces - these troops are trained as soldiers, but also as police. They are generally used to keep warring factions apart while political negotiations are underway to stablize a city or small state. These troops must also be able to integrate with troops from other peacekeeping nations.
  • Command and Control - to integrate these diverse forces, better command and control structures must be in place than have traditionally been used. Intelligence must be exchanged between elements and when decisions are made at high levels that require tight integration between disparate elements lower down (eg, you don't bomb an area where your special forces are operating), the necessary information must be exchanged.
  • Biological and Chemical Weapons Research - while these weapons can no longer be used by first world nations, research must continue into the actual agents enemies are likely to use and ways to defend or innoculate against them.
  • The Poor Bloody Infantry - most successful military operations will at some point require that some poor guys in soldier suits go in and occupy some ground. These forces need not be huge, as they were in WWII, but they do need to be well-trained in the high tech aspects of modern warfare.

It's also useful to notice some things that don't seem as important as they once did:

  • Nukes - no longer the "in" weapon. Practically unusable. It's obvious that our leaders don't value them much any more, as they are planning to reduce their numbers drastically
  • Artillery - while some high-tech artillery will no doubt survive, the 21st century isn't likely to see a lot of tank duels or cities under artillery siege. This includes ships whose main weapons are big guns.
  • Chemical and Biological agents - absolutely taboo. while defending against these agents justifies considerable research (see above), there's no point at all in possessing them.

So, it's more important, I think, to talk about the structure of our military, rather than harp on cost. In 2001, the US will spend about 3% of GDP on the military (about 16% of all government spending). This doesn't seem like a bloated budget, but it must be well spent to be effective.

Post Gulf War II comment: all of the above seems to have been fairly accurate, but a couple of things were left out:

  • Coordination between forces and command and control in general. With so many different forces in the field, it's vital to have good communications and control between them. If you don't have this, friendly fire will eat your lunch.
  • Armor. For a while it seemed like armor was a lost cause. Smart bombs can just shred it from 20,000 feet. All battles aren't symetrical, however, and tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles are more important than ever for those times where you have air superiority, but not superiority in numbers or have to fight an enemy that is dispersed in the population.

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