“Stunningly irresponsible”

That’s how former OMB official Gordon Adams described congressional proposals to mandate annual spending of 4% of GDP on the DoD baseline (i.e., not including Iraq, Afghanistan, and certain programs related to national defense but funded in other departments). This would raise the baseline from the $515 BN in the FY 2009 budget request to something like $560 BN.

Comparisons with earlier eras, like Korea and Vietnam, are invalid because they overlook the higher tempo of conventional operations in those wars against well-equipped opponents (i.e., we deployed a lot more forces and we lost a lot of tanks and not a few aircraft), the need simultaneously to maintain substantial forces in Europe to deter the then-mighty Soviet Union (defunct since 1991), and the much smaller size of the American economy in those periods. Those things do make a difference.

As I try to show in If We Can Keep It, Adams is being charitable. A defense budget of $150 BN would still be the world’s largest (as Winslow Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information put it, “by a long shot.”). It would be roughly five times the annual budget of the US Marine Corps, the world’s premier maneuver warfare force. It would be approximately six times the annual budget of the 25 countries compiled by CDI that we might actually, possibly fight. Put together.

Whom might we fight? Hard to predict? Sure, but it isn’t hard to predict whom we won’t fight a war with, at least using the conventional (non-nuclear) weapons that make up the bulk of the $183 BN of the Pentagon’s weapons request (including R&D — you might compare just this number to the size of the recently passed “stimulus.”) We won’t be fighting major nuclear powers, including Russia, India, or China, and we won’t be fighting US allies, either those with nucs (UK, France, Israel) or those without (Germany, Brazil, Italy, Canada, etc.). In fact, if there’s any real reason to fight, our allies will be fighting alongside us.

So whom does that leave? Beats me. We have no military threat along our borders — desperate job seekers and their families are not a military threat and neither are drug traffickers — unlike, say, China, which must plan against some sort of threat along its entire 13,742.8 miles of borders.

But don’t worry, I hear you say, the Democrats may take power next January. Sorry, they’re falling all over themselves to add yet even more money. Ike Skelton, for example, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has talked about DoD’s “serious unmet needs,” and the chairman of the House budget committee complained that when adjusted for inflation, the FY2009 budget is actually less than in FY 2008. In the Senate, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, has not called for any changes in the proposed budget.

So hang on to your wallets and invest your “stimulus” checks wisely.

[Gordon Adams is now professor of foreign policy at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC.]

Sources:

“Congress: $705B budget leaves gaps,” by William Mathews, DefenseNews, 11 February 2008.

“DOD details $515.4 Billion plan; procurement cut, war costs delayed,” by Jason Sherman, Inside the Pentagon, February 7, 2008.

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