In the post‐Cold War world, no other single nation comes close to spending as much as the United States does on defense — a whopping $260 billion per year. The United States spends more than all of its allies — including the next most potent military powers in the world — combined. (In fact, some NATO officials fear that the U.S. military will outpace those of the Europeans to such an extent that allied forces will no longer be able to operate effectively together.) At most, the Russians and Chinese each spend $70 billion to $80 billion per year, and the actual total may be much less. Moreover, most of that money goes to holding together creaking, bloated militaries rather than funding development and production of new weapons. Equally significant, the most unfriendly nations — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba and North Korea — spend a paltry $15 billion per year combined.
U.S. supremacy is more than just budgetary. The United States has the only fully integrated military in the world. Other nations may buy sophisticated weapons, but only the U.S. military combines transportation assets with military information systems that coordinate the command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) needed to use those weapons effectively. Many analysts believe that advances in C3I will revolutionize the future battlefield by making weapons more effective. Because the United States has unparalleled capabilities in C3I, its overwhelming dominance of future battlefields is likely.
Such dominance should allow the United States to trim some of the “overkill” from its defense budget. For example, the United States currently has three new tactical fighter programs in development or production, although today’s benign geopolitics barely justifies even one. The U.S. Navy is retiring subsurface and surface vessels before their useful lives have ended to make room for expensive new submarines and large destroyers — weapon systems that were much more useful during the Cold War.
Those weapons are just a few examples of military purchases that have little or nothing to do with defending the nation adequately. They’re jobs programs, pure and simple. And not coincidentally, more than a few of those jobs are in states that happen to be home to key members of the Republican congressional leadership. The extra destroyer, added by Congress to the other three unneeded destroyers requested in the Clinton administration’s 1998 budget, will be produced in Mississippi, home of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. The eight extra C-130J transport planes added by Congress are produced in Georgia, home of Speaker Gingrich.
Providing a strong national defense is a fundamental function of government. But larding the defense budget with systems we don’t need, to oppose a threat we don’t face, is a waste of money — a lot of money. That Republicans, who claim to be careful about budgetary matters and government waste support such spending is deeply disappointing.