Most liberals are very gung-ho about downsizing defense spending. After all, it has more than doubled in size since the late ‘90s, and many liberals believe that the military-industrial complex drives defense spending levels more than actual need. Most conservatives seem to want to protect DOD spending at almost any cost, and they want to spend ever more on the military, seemingly with no upper boundary. One side seems to view perpetually high levels of defense spending as a measure of our strength, while the other tend to see such spending as a measure of our imperialistic intent. Polls show most Americans are somewhere in the middle, wanting some defense cuts but not a gutting of DOD.
For my part, I think both sides focus too much on spending as an end in itself. Sure, spending matters, and many factors other than strategic needs drive defense spending, including interest groups and bureaucratic rivalries. But, to me, spending on the military is driven mainly by perceived defense needs, which themselves derive from our broader foreign policy goals. Like it or not, how much to spend on DOD really depends on what we want DOD to be able to do — and why.
Luckily, this topic is in the news now because President Obama has just announced a major revision to U.S. defense strategy and a budget to match it. On Thursday, I’ll (1) give a few comparative stats on how DOD spends our money, and then (2) describe the new strategic framework. That should take no more than 10-15 minutes, and then we can debate.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS –
- How much do we spend on national defense? What is the money spent on?
- How much is this, compared to…what? To the past, to our adversaries’ military spending, etc.?
- More importantly, how do the amounts we spend cmatch up with what we expect our military to be able to do for us? What is our military for?
- How is Obama proposing to change defense strategy? What basic priorities will – and won’t – change?
- Will the amounts spent be adequate to our needs now? How about in the future?
- Can the United States still afford to spend this much on defense? But, what about future threats, like China?
- Some mind-blowing charts on recent growth in defense spending (esp. charts 1 and 2), including what the increases were spent on (chart 7).
- Obama’s new national security strategy and related defense spending changes. NYT summary. American Prospect summary. McClatchy summary.
- Obama’s cuts are tiny. George Will supports them.
- But they hit troops hardest.
Tomorrow, Valentine’s Day permitting, I’ll directly post some charts that show defense spending levels and composition. Some of these facts might surprise both liberals and conservatives.