How Much Is Enough?

In yesterday’s Daily Caller, I responded to an article questioning cuts in military spending. Although the author focuses on a few of the specifics proposals put forward by the Sustainable Defense Task Force (SDTF), he seems to imply that any cuts in a budget that has grown 86 percent since 1998 (in real terms) would undermine our security.

I was able to respond to his more outrageous claims, including his assertion that Barack Obama plans to cut $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget over the next ten years. In fact, Obama has now submitted two DoD budgets, each larger than the year before. We are spending more money (in real, inflation-adjusted dollars) on the military today than at any time since World War II.

One of the other assertions in an article riddled with errors deserves a response. The author claims that cuts in military spending would leave as vulnerable as we were in the early 19th century, when:

Strapped for money, Jefferson cut the navy by two-thirds and built small gunboats instead, saying they “are the only water defense which can be useful to us, and protect us from the ruinous folly of a navy.” What were the results of Jefferson’s version of a low cost ‘policy of restraint?’ Britain’s navy brushed the gunboats aside and burned the White House in 1814.

Fortunately, the British superpower of 1814 did not have an air force, a strategic missile force, or a large amphibious Marine Corps. If they had, they would have burned the Declaration of Independence, too.

Historical analogies are always tenuous, but this one might work…if you imagine that we were the British in the 19th century, and any other country in the world was the adolescent United States. The American superpower of the 21st century doeshave “an air force, a strategic missile force, [and] a large amphibious Marine Corps” and we will continue to have all of those things in the extremely unlikely event that Congress adopts all of the SDTF’s recommendations for cuts.

Here is how the SDTF report addresses the question of relative military spending:

In 1986, US military spending was only 60% as high as that of its adversaries (taken as a group). Today, America spends more than two and one-half times as much as does the group of potential adversary states, including Russia and China. This means that if the United States were to cut its spending in half today, it would still be spending more than its current and potential adversaries – and the balance would still be twice as favorable as during the Cold War.

The notion that we can’t cut anything from the military budget without diminishing American security, that we need to spend more money on the military today than at the height of the Cold War, is absurd. Even some prominent conservatives are beginning to question the wisdom of spending hundreds of billions of dollars every years on the military. Let’s hope this sensible thinking starts to catch on.