Thursday, May 01, 2014

America's Bloated Defense Budget

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
 -President Dwight D. Eisenhower
April 16, 1953
In the year 2013, the United States of America spent approximately $640 billion on the military and defense. At the same time, nearly 50 million Americans live in poverty, unemployment is over 6%, and inequality is rising to levels not seen since the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. As the United States ponders spending billions on modernizing its nuclear force , a new bomber , the F-35, and the various other costs associated with outspending the next 15 countries combined, America's leaders should consider where our national priorities should truly lie. A world with strong international norms enforced by American global hegemony is certainly a situation which benefits the United States, but could almost certainly be maintained for much less.

One especially outrageous effort is the estimated one trillion dollars over thirty years the United States will spend to maintain and update the nuclear triad. Even discounting the conventional deterrence capabilities the United States possesses, the over 5000 warheads fielded by the US are excessive. The logic behind maintaining such high numbers is questionable at best: the necessity of maintaining a guaranteed "second strike" capability under nuclear deterrence theory. However, a more than adequate deterrent could be maintained with a significantly smaller nuclear force. While there are certainly nuclear states which oppose US foreign policy goals (i.e. Russia and China), it is highly unlikely such actors would risk war with the United States.Furthermore, nuclear weapons or no, barring major political shifts either domestically or abroad it is hardly rational for any major power to go to war with another - any realistic goal could almost certainly be achieved more economically via other means.

More generally, the Department of Defense has long been known for wasting billions on projects which eventually end up canceled or severely limited in utility. While funding potentially "out there" R&D projects has led to advances in defense technology, it is indisputable that defense funds could be spent more prudently. While American military supremacy is certainly a desirable policy end, it could certainly be maintained for less than is currently spent. As Americans continue to confront major social issues such as rising healthcare costs and poverty, we should reevaluate where our values (and spending priorities) lie.

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