One of the key aspects of human efficiency is making decisions based on facts and data rather than ideological thinking. This is a critical aspect of having an efficient government and political system.
In this post, we will look at the U.S. military. President Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in military spending. Is this really required? Are we spending too much on the military already? With the U.S. debt increasing every year and other items such as our infrastructure requiring increased investment, we need to consider these questions.
In 2016 the U.S. defense budget was $611 billion. This is more money than the next eight countries spent combined. This also equates to about 16 percent of our federal spending. But unfortunately, this is not the entire amount spent on defense related items.
There is more money spent on other items which are related to defense but are not included in the defense budget. This includes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which are categorized as “overseas contingency operations”. As of 2016, independent researchers have estimated the total costs of those wars at about $5 trillion.
This number includes more than $1.2 trillion in present and future costs for veterans’ health care as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars resulted in over 5,000 U.S. casualties and over 40,000 injured troops. Note that the contingency number and the regular defense budget does not include other veterans’ benefits costs which amounted to $151 billion in 2015. But regardless, we need to take care of our veterans no matter what the cost.
Other items not included in the defense budget include pensions to military retirees and their families, financing of foreign arms sales, the Department of Homeland Security, FBI counter-terrorism work, and the NSA.
There is no doubt that we need a military to protect our freedom and to offer assistance to our allies. But do we need to spend this much money on defense? Let’s compare ourselves to other countries.
- The U.S. has 1.3 million troops and 865,000 in reserve, China has 2.2 million, and Russia has 0.8 million. We have 200,000 active troops in 170 countries.
- The U.S. has 3,476 tactical aircraft which includes 2,200 fighter jets which includes 1,400 mostly new fighters operated by the Air Force. Russia and China have less and they are older.
- The U.S. has 275 surface ships and submarines including 10 aircraft carriers. China and Russia have somewhat fewer combat vessels and only one aircraft carrier each.
It is not clear how China and Russia can support such a huge military while spending much less money, or how accurate the spending estimate actually is.
The U.S. is and will be the world’s policeman but we do need to come up with a way to reduce military costs in one way or the other. Some ideas include:
- Make the military more efficient. In 2011 the GAO mentioned serious financial management problems at the DOD. How much money could we save by hiring a few more people to eliminate waste?
- Share the burden of protection with alliances such as NATO and have the other countries take over more of the financial burden. Those countries are building high-speed rail lines and we are building aircraft carriers.
- Reduce the mission of the military around the world.
- Use wars as a last option. We learned from Iraq and Afghanistan that starting a war is easy but ending it is not and the cost can be massive in both lives and dollars.