“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.]


“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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Filed in Uncategorized | 26 responses so far

26 Responses to ““Stunningly irresponsible””

  1. […] Chet Richards is thinking big about matching resources to ends in the US defense budget. We won’t be fighting major nuclear powers, including Russia, India, or China… […]

  2. Fabius Maximuson 12 Feb 2008 at 3:07 pm 2

    Chet, you have too narrow a perspective on this. We should increase DoD’s spending.

    Why stop there? Increase spending by all government departments (their needs are even greater than DoD’s, after all).

    It is just good sense to max out the family credit cards before going broke. Since we do not plan to pay these debts, why does it matter how we waste the money?

    Better yet, let’s just send a check — perhaps $600 — to every American!

  3. Cheton 12 Feb 2008 at 8:41 pm 3

    Fabius — brilliant, as always. And headed in the right direction.

    The big constitutional issue, though, with giving the government more money is that it also gives it more power, money being merely a tangible manifestation of power, analogous to the relationship between matter and energy (to wit, E=mc^2). So the only way to keep power in the hands of the people is to give them even more money.

    Do you think that $600/Amcit will be enough?

  4. judasnooseon 13 Feb 2008 at 1:13 am 4

    Just to be clear, when you say, “We won’t be fighting China with non-nuclear weapons” that means the US won’t surge any carriers or other fighting ships if China invades Taiwan?

    I had better practice my Japanese, at least a few useful phrases like, “Taiwan has been invaded, please send submarines.”

  5. Cheton 13 Feb 2008 at 2:03 am 5

    judasnoose —

    We might – nobody can predict the actions of future politicians. Bill Lind, though, asked what we would do if the Chinese simply nuked our fleet. Would we be willing to lose Los Angeles, New York, and Washington if we retaliated for the loss of our ships? I don’t know. I don’t think any sane person wants to find out. [Lind explores this point further in On War #168.]

    By the way, we recognize China as one country. Intervening to protect Taiwan would be interfering in their civil war. A better strategy might be not to encourage Taiwan to believe that we would risk our country to help them become independent and to do whatever we can to persuade the mainland to reach a peaceful resolution. This may not deter the PRC, but in the end we may have to admit that we can’t right all the world’s wrongs, as we define them.

    If we truly intend to risk the survival of the planet to ensure an independent Taiwan, then we should go ahead and recognize Taiwan as a separate country, as we appear willing to do with Kosovo against non-nuclear Serbia.

    Practicing your Japanese is a good idea for a variety of legitimate reasons.

  6. maximilliangcon 13 Feb 2008 at 2:27 am 6

    Chet Nails it right here,

    “Would we be willing to lose Los Angeles, New York, and Washington if we retaliated for loss of our ships? I don’t know. I don’t think any sane person wants to find out. [Lind explores this point further in On War #168.]”

    China is an advanced nuclear and space fairing country that can field at least
    750 million personel in arms.

    Oh bold American, who pines for war with China,
    Consider that Walmart Inc. IS China’s 5th largest international trading partner,
    the largest employer on the N. American continent, out side of US Government and Military interests.

    So in exactly who’s interests is your WAR with China ?
    Tiawan ?
    Isreal ?
    The Republicans ?

    Since we can’t even beat a bunch of losely organised thugs, in GWB’s “I-Rack”
    much less a few thousdand Cavemen in Afganistan, what makes you think we
    can take China ?

    Please explain.


  7. rogelio007on 13 Feb 2008 at 5:16 am 7

    “then we should go ahead and recognize Taiwan as a separate country”

    We don’t have the guts. That would just about for sure mean a showdown with the PRC, someone our own size. We prefer targets like Iran, Iraq or Serbia. We are like a ten-year-old on a playground who loves to pick fights with five-year-olds but would never dare pick a fight with another ten-year-old.

  8. Cheton 13 Feb 2008 at 11:06 am 8

    There isn’t much that’s totally predictable in the world of strategy, but you can reasonably assume that if the PRC were to try to subdue Taiwan by force, they would have thought about the possibility that the US would intervene with naval forces.

  9. maximilliangcon 13 Feb 2008 at 12:56 pm 9

    I have to laugh at any serious consideration of the US waging war on China,
    given the realities that exist for the forseeable future.

    It’s Pathetic !

    Ask even if the US will manage to get out of GWB’s “I-Rack”
    and Afganistan intact.

    Watch your General Motors stock.


  10. maximilliangcon 13 Feb 2008 at 1:01 pm 10

    Eric Magolis hits another one out of the ball park,,,..

    Warning, the truth hurts, America right or wrong types, be warned.



    ” Most Europeans regard the Afghan conflict as a. wrong and immoral; b. America’s war; c. all about oil; and d. probably lost.”

    “When the Soviets occupied Afghanistan, they deployed 160,000 troops and about 200,000 Afghan Communist troops – yet failed to crush the mostly Pashtun resistance. Now, the US and NATO are trying the same mission with only 66,000 troops, backed by ragtag local mercenaries grandly styled the Afghan National Army. Of these 66,000 western soldiers, at least half or more are non-combat support troops.”

  11. Cheton 13 Feb 2008 at 2:35 pm 11

    A similar version of Margolis’s article appeared in the Toronto Sun on February 10:


  12. Fabius Maximuson 13 Feb 2008 at 3:49 pm 12

    This excerpt from Margolis’ article says it all:

    “McNeill admitted, the U.S. and NATO would need 400,000 troops to defeat Pashtun tribal resistance in Afghanistan.”

    And we need to defeat the Pastun tribal resistance because…

    Truly cracked. I mean us, not just the senior folks in the Bush Administration and Congress. We have how many tens of thousands of people in the US that have expertise in military strategy, geopolitics, or Central Asia. Why are they all not protesting against this madness? Writing to their congresscritters, newspapers, working their rolodexes. These are the people the rest of America relies on to guide such projects, as we rely on health care professionals for medical care.

  13. lastdingoon 13 Feb 2008 at 11:48 pm 13

    Irresponsible? Yes, since about four decades.

    But the story that sounds like ‘there will be no war between nuclear powers’ is dubious.

    Chemical weapons were very deadly in WW2, even the first nerve gas agents were available. The means to use them for mass murder on cities were available. Experts and laymen alike expected that in the next European war bombers would gas the s**t out of civilians and end that war quickly by doing so.

    Didn’t happen. But three forces were in part prepared for just that scenario; France, Italy and UK. They lost badly early on against the conventional land war-oriented Germans (except Italians, who lost against the best troops of the UK/Commonwealth later on).

    It’s extremely dangerous to rely on the assumption that war between nuclear power won’t happen. The mobility of forces and the fragility of our high-tech economies/infrastructures would probably not allow us to recover from initial defeats in a major conventional war.

  14. Cheton 14 Feb 2008 at 12:34 am 14

    lastdingo —

    Thanks. Your previous comment was accidentally deleted (it needed editing for language before it could be posted). Please resubmit. I won’t edit for language any more, by the way – will simply delete.

    The notion that there will be no war between major nuclear powers, or at least not more than one, doesn’t mean that there can’t be a little sparring every now and then. However even this hasn’t happened. Should tell you something.

    I didn’t, by the way say that such wars are “impossible.” Very little in the realm of defense policy is, strictly speaking “impossible.” But we only have so many resources and we have to allocate them somehow. Putting very much on a real conventional war with another major nuclear power – betting that there is no way that escalation, or error, or simple ego won’t send it nuclear – just strikes me as fantasy. Why would a major power let itself be defeated, its country destroyed, and its leaders tried and executed if they had the means to ensure that it didn’t happen? That’s what “war” means.

    Ask yourself this: Would Hitler have used nukes against the advancing Soviet armies? Against the US and the UK? Would the Imperial Japanese Army have let an American fleet steam into its backyard if they had had nukes?

    Anyway, the force I proposed would still be the world’s most capable land combat force, plus, what some people tend to forget, we do have allies. Read the book.

  15. rogelio007on 14 Feb 2008 at 1:05 am 15

    “you can reasonably assume that if the PRC were to try to subdue Taiwan by force, they would have thought about the possibility that the US would intervene with naval forces.”

    The Chinese are very likely not frightened by the United States Navy Seventh Fleet. As William S. Lind has alluded to, in a war over Taiwan the Chinese would probably just vaporize the USN Seventh Fleet with a few tactical nukes.

  16. judasnooseon 14 Feb 2008 at 4:12 am 16

    Max wrote:

    Oh bold American, who pines for war with China,

    So in exactly who’s interests is your WAR with China ?
    Tiawan ?

    Please explain.

    1. Many Taiwanese make no pretension to U.S. citizenship, but have gotten the false impression that the U.S. is perpetually willing, even legally obligated, to protect Taiwan from the PRC. Calling these Taiwanese ” bold Americans” will only confuse them and obstruct the dialogue.
    2. The aforesaid Taiwanese make no bones about proposed U.S. actions being a sacrifice of America’s interests to Taiwan’s interests. Many American diplomatic statements (including the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979) have led Taiwan’s people to the notion that the U.S. would protect Taiwan. The only question in my mind is whether every single U.S. warfighter is determined to abandon Taiwan. Clearly many U.S. warfighters want nothing to do with helping Taiwan. It is not clear to me that these warfighters have the clout to legally repudiate the TRA, although of course they could repudiate it in fact by refusing to obey orders to rescue Taiwan.
    3. If the U.S. is not willing to rescue Taiwan, how would its government and warfighters react if Japan were to defend Taiwan from China?

  17. maximilliangcon 14 Feb 2008 at 10:29 pm 17

    judasnoose said, on February 14th, 2008 at 4:12 am

    “have led Taiwan’s people to the notion that the U.S. would protect Taiwan.”

    Interesting They think of themselves as what Isreal is to the US perhaps ?

    If you ask me, it’s about high time we started re-thinking that example one as well.

    Here’s a clue,
    I looked up the stats on Tawian, I use the CIA WorldFact book,
    Tawain is NOT even seperately listed.


  18. mickeypvxon 14 Feb 2008 at 10:29 pm 18

    Hey everybody, first comment here, handshakes and introductions to follow, plus shrimp cocktail!

    Being an new Air Force type guy, I’ve always wondered if China or other hypothetical eastern adversaries have adapted their air war tactics to make up for the disadvantage in technology, as they have been so good at doing on the ground with their small unit execution. They don’t seem to be the types to simply take off and fly straight at us and most likely die.

    On the budget, I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m putting my rebate away. Heck, I got a wedding to pay for y’know?

  19. Cheton 14 Feb 2008 at 10:48 pm 19

    mickeypvx —

    Welcome – nice to have another USAF type around!

    That’s a very good point. I once asked Mike Wyly (USMC retired Col., one of the godfathers of maneuver warfare in the Corps) why the Chinese used hey-diddle-diddle, right-up-the-middle human wave tactics in Korea if they were such big Sun Tzu fans. His answer: Don’t be so sure that they did.

    If they were engaging the US Pacific Fleet, for example, they wouldn’t have to defeat it in any conventional sense, even with nukes. All they need to do is ensure that it doesn’t become a factor in their plan for Taiwan. So they might employ all kinds of tactics to confuse or delay it (Check out Patterns chart 132 for some ideas).

    Having just paid for one wedding out in Vegas for no. 1 daughter, am beginning to see the virtues in eloping. Best wishes! Assume you’re following Fabius Maximus on the budget stuff.

  20. judasnooseon 15 Feb 2008 at 4:51 am 20


    Funny, I just checked the link at:

    and it looks like a separate listing to me.

  21. Cheton 15 Feb 2008 at 10:49 am 21

    To all who comment: This thread is beginning to get personal. Please take a couple of deep breaths before you hit “submit comment.” This is a problem that I have in spades, so I can sympathize. For those new to the site, please take a quick look at our comment policy.

    Occasionally, depending on how interesting the rest of your comment strikes me and how much time I have, inappropriate or off-topic material may be deleted (much more often, I’ll simply delete the whole thing). If you think this mangles the intent of your comment, please send an e-mail to info at d-n-i dot net and I’ll remove it.

    Many thanks to those who have sent in comments – I’ve learned a lot and I hope you have too.

  22. maximilliangcon 15 Feb 2008 at 10:35 pm 22

    judasnoose said, on February 15th, 2008 at 4:51 am

    and it looks like a separate listing to me.

    Sorry JD, for clarification I’m referring to the main portal;

    Scroll down your choices in the topical selection window.
    You won’t find Taiwan separately listed; you WILL find it linked when you
    open China.

    This would be like no mention of Canada, but finding it linked to
    the US page. Or Germany to find Austria.

    In my estimation, That’s potent political statement right there.

    Do you happen to know if the defence “agreements” between the US and
    Taiwan are binding treaties, ratified by Congress ?

    Or are these agreements made in the Nixon – Regan era, along the lines
    of the agreement GWB has recently made with the Iraqi leadership ?

    Presidents come, Presidents go, and so do the deals they make, but it’s
    congress and the senate that decide on issues of longer and more significant
    duration, at least that’s my feeble understanding of how it’s supposed to work.

    Whether on not that’s so anymore is also a good topic.

    keep it going,,,.


  23. maximilliangcon 16 Feb 2008 at 10:30 am 23


    President Bush’s new budget request calls for more than double the amount of spending on defense accounts than did the budget he inherited from his predecessor.

    Yet according to some Republicans and Democrats, the United States still is not spending enough on defense.

    Less than a week after Bush’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget arrived on Capitol Hill, lawmakers already are drafting plans to add money for weapons that the administration did not request but that the individual military services would like to have. These include more C-17 transport planes, more F-22 warplanes, possibly another Virginia-class submarine and an LPD-17 amphibious ship, according to members and aides from both chambers.

    “The fixation Congress has with buying irrelevant hardware definitely retards the country’s ability to respond to modern warfare,” said Winslow Wheeler, a former congressional staff aide who now directs the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, a nonpartisan military research group.

    “We delude ourselves into thinking this gigantic budget prepares us to adequately deal with these challenges,” he said.

  24. maximilliangcon 17 Feb 2008 at 3:47 pm 24

    JD Wrote,

    “If the U.S. is not willing to rescue Taiwan, how would its government and warfighters react if Japan were to defend Taiwan from China?”

    I’ve been working with some mainland/non-HongKong based Chinese engineers
    for the past couple of years, in preparation towards this summer’s
    Olympic games broadcasting interests.

    They’ve come here to practice the language, and learn and see how we do things.

    They show up sporting the latest Iphones, blackberries, Ipods, 6 gig jump drives, Levenco cybergenic protected laptops, speaking moderately good English, (a lot better than my Cantonese) and driving Toyotas.

    The rate these people are learning, liberalizing, and embracing western lifestyle,
    consumerism, capitalism, and culture, ANY argument for threats and war
    with China on political ideological terms (threats of their exporting communism) is entirely bogus. Bogus !

    If we still want to go to war with them, and risk thermonuclear Armageddon because they are smarter, work harder, and are more productive, then that’s another problem entirely.

    Let’s be mighty careful what we wish for.


  25. maximilliangcon 17 Feb 2008 at 4:42 pm 25

    Since the title of this thread reads,
    “Stunningly Irresponsible”

    In contemplating War with China,
    one needs to consider the new realities of something
    known as ” Economic Globalisation,” where;

    Walmart Inc. US based, the largest employer on the N. American
    continent, outside of US Government and Military interests,
    IS also China’s 5th largest international trading partner.
    We’re Not talkin about a G-8 country mind you, we’re talking about a single
    US headquartered company.

    And so, you can see that,
    Walmart has a dependency on China, and vice-versa.
    Moreover, by extrapolation one can deduce that
    the US civilian economy has a large measure of dependency
    on Walmart.

    But that’s just one US company, consider also, IBM, McDonalds, Coke,
    Pepsi, Boeing, Lockmart, Apple, Microsoft, Xerox, NCR, Motorola,
    Texas Instruments, Intel, GM, etc, etc.

    War is generally bad for business, at least civilian based enterprise,
    and international trade between combatants.

    True, War with China, could provide some short term stimulus for the US Military
    Industrial Complex, since when however is America becoming a pure Military based dictatorship economy ?

    Who would win, “anything” in such a war ?

    *”You’ll get something you never bargained for, and only a lunatic wants.”

    *Line delivered by the character General Black in Sydney Lumets
    classic FailSafe.





  26. maximilliangcon 28 Feb 2008 at 7:15 pm 26

    Link / More news and information on Walmart,
    and it’s globalisation interests.

    With Walmart occuping one of the only bright spots
    in the US economy outside of interests that profit
    almost exclusively from the export of warfare.



    The Wal-Mart Puzzle
    The economy’s tanking. So why is it thriving?
    By Daniel Gross