Friday, February 18, 2011

America as a War Machine

The US spends far more on the military than any other country. And even though the Cold War is long over and the threats are now puny non-state actors, the budget for the military inexorably keeps rising. Here a bit from an article in Slate magazine:
Still, $708.2 billion, the sum requested just for fiscal year 2011, is an extraordinary chunk of change. The Center for a New American Security (hardly a dovish think tank) calculates that, adjusting for inflation, this sum is 13 percent higher than the defense budget at the peak of the Korean War, 33 percent higher than at the peak of the Vietnam War, 23 percent higher than at the peak of the Cold War, and 64 percent higher than the Cold War's average.
That is inconceivable. The Cold War was an existential threat to the US. The war on Al Qaeda is a pin prick. The best they could do was kill 3,000 and that was a fluke and will never happen again. But the US is now spending 64% more on war than it was at the height of the Cold War! Insane.

And there is something extremely "fishy" about the military expenditures:
There has been one constant in the defense budget ever since the mid-1960s: the money has been divided almost exactly evenly—never varying by more than a couple of percentage points—among the Army, Navy, and Air Force. For all of Gates' apparent rationality, the same is true in this budget: 32 percent goes to the Army, 35 percent goes to the Navy, 33 percent goes to the Air Force. (For more on this, click here.) It is extremely unlikely that our national-security needs just so happen to demand a response that gives each of our three services a nearly equal share of the military budget.
Does everybody believe that the Al Qaeda threat requires that 35% of the budget go to the Navy while only 32% goes to the Army? What? Has Al Qaeda launched a flotilla while I wasn't watching? Or why does the Air Force get 33% of the budget? Does Al Qaeda have an air force I haven't heard about?

Here's the reality:
In other words, the Defense Department is a monstrous bureaucracy, and its budget is a political document—a set of weights and balances to keep the natural tensions from erupting out of control. (In the 1950s, when budgets were very tight, and before this tacit pie-splitting deal was worked out, the service chiefs saw one another as, quite literally, enemies. For an example, click here.)
So the real principle behind who much and who gets what is a deal brokered in the 1960s? That's 50 years ago! What does that military have to do with the military of 2011?

And while I'm outraged at the incredible sums being "spent" (read: "wasted") in the military budget, it gets worse:
In fact, according to one senior Pentagon official, the White House has promised the Defense Department an increase of $100 billion over the next five years—and that's just in the baseline budget, not including extra money for fighting wars.

So, one of two things is likely to happen in the next couple years. Either the budget—the overall federal budget—and the deficit will zoom higher than the White House is projecting. Or Obama will order his budgeteers to stop playing with numbers and give Gates the authority to bulldoze through a few more bureaucratic barriers in the Pentagon.

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