Defense Spending Beacons

Defense Spending Beacons
April 1st, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Defense Spending Beacons

Defense Spending Beacons
Washington Times
April 1, 2008
Pg. 13
By John R. Guardiano
Is America spending too much or too little on defense? That's a fair and crucial question, especially at a time of war, when U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are dying overseas. But because advocates on both sides of the issue are asking the wrong questions, recent media analysis of the issue has been ill-informed and misplaced.
Critics of increased defense spending argue correctly that, in absolute dollar terms, the United States spends more on defense than at any time in its history. In addition, they note, the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 10 countries combined. Therefore, they argue, defense spending is more than adequate.
Proponents of increased defense spending counter that a dollar today is worth a lot less than in it was in previous eras. Moreover, they add, as a share of the gross domestic product (GDP), defense spending is at a historic low during a time of war.
The United States spends less than 4 percent of its GDP on defense. By contrast, Defense spending averaged some 14 percent of GDP in the Korean War, nearly 10 percent during the Vietnam War, and more than 33 percent during World War II.
Clearly, both sides in this debate have legitimate contextual points; however, both sides miss the mark.
Defense spending relative to that of other nations is an unhelpful comparison because the United States isn't like other nations. America is the world's sole remaining superpower, with far-reaching obligations to protect U.S. national security interests worldwide.
Moreover, American considers its soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to be its greatest military asset. Thus, we are unwilling to sacrifice their lives when technology can prevent the loss of life. That's one important reason America has invested literally hundreds of billions of dollars in advanced weapons systems: We know dollars spent today can save lives tomorrow.
In fact, when you consider the relative loss of American life since 1945 (when the Cold War began), it is clear that U.S. defense spending has been money well-spent. Indeed, by any historical comparison, American casualties have been remarkably low, thanks in large part to our nation's investment in weapon systems that have minimized our troops' vulnerability to danger.
There was a well-known "procurement holiday" in the 1990s; however, since Sept. 11, 2001, money for new procurement has risen rather substantially. But as critics of increased defense spending point out, this new money is not necessarily being well-appropriated. Spending, after all, must be tied to a procurement plan, which, in turn, must correspond with an overarching military strategy.
As it turns out, there is a National Defense Strategy that governs defense procurement planning. The March 2005 document wisely calls for a military that can project power from the "global commons" i.e., space, cyberspace, international waters and airspace to distant and austere environments that have little or no existing infrastructure.
The Cold War, after all, is over. The fight today is not in established Europe, but in places like Kandahar, Fallujah, Mindanao and Mogadishu undeveloped urban frontiers for which a Cold War military is ill-suited.
That's why the U.S. military has embarked upon its greatest transformation since the World War II, some 65 years ago. The "information revolution" of the last quarter-century has transformed the commercial world, but much less so the bureaucratically insular U.S. military. Consequently, 19-year-old civilians today typically have more technology at their disposal than 19-year-old soldiers.
This must change. There's no reason, save for bureaucratic inertia, policy myopia, and budgetary stinginess, that our troops in harm's way can't be the beneficiaries of the best technologies available.
Indeed, soldiers and Marines shouldn't have to walk into insurgent-infested buildings dumb, deaf and blind, without the benefit of advanced reconnaissance, surveillance and communication capabilities, which tell them what lurks behind hidden doors. Yet, to an extent I believe would shock the public, that's often the case today.
But of course, new communication systems, technologies and weapon systems don't come cheap; they cost a lot of money and they take time to develop.
Moreover, because the U.S. military is pushing the technological envelope, it doesn't always know what these new capabilities will cost. Any technology development program, after all, necessarily involves an element of (calculated) development risk; otherwise, there can be no military-technological progress.
Can America defend itself without making this investment in high-tech weapon systems? Yes, of course; but the tradeoff will be many more dead and wounded, many more civilian deaths, and far greater collateral damage in any future conflict.
That's why, if anything, America needs to spend more on defense today, both in absolute and relative terms, than it has throughout its history: because our tolerance for casualties is far weaker than it has been historically.
For example, America suffered more dead in solitary World War II training exercises than we have suffered in the entire Iraq war. Yet, policymakers fret over Iraq war casualties as if they are a harbinger of strategic disaster.
They are not. American casualties are, however, a reflection of our nation's understandable and admirable aversion to the loss of human life. For that reason, and for that reason alone, America needs to spend much more on defense. We pay either in dollars today or in lives lost tomorrow.
John R. Guardiano is a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war and a Navy Reserve officer. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Navy or Marine Corps.

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