A Hollow Debate on Military Readiness

October 17, 2000 • Foreign Policy Briefing No. 62

The 2000 election campaign has seen the presidential candidates sparring over the unlikely and arcane topic of military readiness–the ability of military forces to deploy quickly and perform initially their wartime mission. The candidates are already in a bidding war to see who can throw the most money at the Pentagon. However, the alleged shortage of funds available to be spent on readiness is largely illusory. Gaps in readiness could be plugged without increasing the budget for national defense. Vast amounts are already being spent to give the United States bone‐​crushing dominance over any other military in the world.

“Pockets of unreadiness” in the U.S. military have three causes: profligate commitment of U.S. forces overseas, misallocation of funds by the Pentagon and Congress, and excessive readiness requirements. The record pace of humanitarian interventions and peacekeeping operations during the Clinton administration has worn out equipment and people, taken time and money that could have been used to train troops to fight a major war, and incurred significant costs.

Also, money that could be spent on training, spare parts, and other items to remedy readiness gaps is wasted through misallocation to less worthy objectives. Excess military bases are retained, procurement of defense items is inefficient, unnecessary weapons are purchased, and too much money is spent on military pay and benefits. Finally, in the benign threat environment of a post‐​Cold War world, U.S. armed forces do not need to be kept in the high states of readiness they were during the Cold War.

If U.S. commitments overseas were reduced, inefficient and wasteful defense spending were eliminated, and post‐​Cold War readiness goals were more realistic, gaps between those goals and the state of the forces could be eliminated without increasing the defense budget.

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