In a recent speech to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, President George W. Bush declared that crop and cattle production is a “national security issue.” Congress usually gets blamed for adding pork to the federal budget, but in this case no one has to ask the executive branch “where’s the beef?” when it comes to justifying farm subsidies. Although on this “national security issue” the president was throwing red meat to rural and business interests in his political base, a closer look at the fattening of the defense budget might also reveal some bones being tossed to constituencies in the defense industry in the name of fighting the war on terrorism.
In his 2003 budget, Bush hiked funding for national defense by $48 billion in the name of battling terrorism. Yet only $19 billion of that sum will be spent on the war. The rest of the increase will allow the Pentagon to founder on the status quo at a time when new threats require that the military be truly transformed.
The stampede to increase funding will bring the already bloated budget for national defense to nearly $400 billion per year. With the increases, the United States alone will account for 40 percent of the world’s defense spending. The U.S. military spends multiple times more than the combined defense spending of all nations that are potential threats (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Cuba) plus China and Russia. America is more dominant militarily relative to the rest of the world than the Roman and British empires at their height.
So fighting the small conflicts (e.g., Afghanistan) or medium-sized wars (if taking down a country like Iraq should ever become necessary) to conduct the battle against terrorism is well within the current $350 billion budget for national defense. Rather than a hefty budget increase, the expenses for the war on terrorism could be paid by generating savings elsewhere in the budget.
Cutting unneeded weapons or anachronistic armaments designed for the Cold War would save billions of dollars. For example, after the fall of the Soviet Union, no new large-scale threat exists to American dominance of the skies to justify the exorbitantly priced F-22 fighter — it was designed to combat Soviet fighters that were never built. American air supremacy will exist for the foreseeable future whether the F-22 is built or not.
In addition, the Crusader, a program to develop a heavy self-propelled artillery piece for what is supposed to be a new, lighter Army, seems absurd. In the war on Kosovo the Army was too heavy to be relevant to the fight. A constant theme of George W. Bush during his campaign and after taking office has been that the military needs to be transformed into a lighter, more agile force that could be deployed to trouble spots more quickly. During the campaign, Bush criticized the Crusader for being too heavy for rapid deployment. Yet the president’s 2003 budget includes money for that beefy gun.
The Comanche scout and light attack helicopter, originally designed to fight Soviet tanks in central Europe, has now morphed into the “quarterback of the digital battlefield.” This helicopter should be put out to pasture.
The submarine had its heyday during the Cold War. Some submarines are still needed. But the 688-I Los Angeles-class will remain the best submarine in the oceans for years to come. Hence, production of the new Virginia-class should be halted.
Many weapons that the defense industry churns out are technologically dated, years behind schedule, and vastly exceed cost targets. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld himself has compared the way the Department of Defense does business, including the way the Pentagon buys weapons, to Soviet central planning. The troubled V-22 tiltrotor aircraft is a classic product of the system. The aircraft, designed to ferry Marines to shore from ships, is being produced in limited quantities until the military figures out how to fix it. The plane has been plagued by crashes, is 10 years behind schedule and is $15 billion over initial cost estimates.
Giving an inefficient defense bureaucracy infusions of cash is rewarding failure and therefore asking for more of the same. In that environment, few incentives exist for the needed transformation of American defenses in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush pledged in his campaign to “skip a generation” of weapons technology and concentrate on developing futuristic armaments. Yet in the current defense budget no major programs have effectively been killed. Even programs that were terminated (DD-21 destroyer and Navy Area short-range missile defense program) have successors that garnered equal or greater funding (the DD[X] family of ships and the follow-on to the Navy Area program) in the president’s submission. More isn ‘t always better.
Thus, spending more money on the Pentagon can actually reduce U.S. security rather than enhance it. Congress needs to corral the defense bureaucracy and vested defense industrial interests seeking to exploit the war on terrorism to fill their own pockets at the taxpayers’ expense.