Hawks’ Arguments For Jacking Up Pentagon Spending Make No Sense

Congress is starting work on next year’s Pentagon budget, and the hawks like Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) are already pushing to authorize tens of billions of dollars more than the Pentagon even asked for. But throwing more money at the Pentagon doesn’t make sense. In fact, overspending on defense will make us less safe by increasing the chances of unnecessary wars and diverting resources from more urgent challenges.

For starters, it’s important to understand just how enormous the Biden administration’s Pentagon budget proposal is, even before Congress moves to add billions more. At $813 billion, the Biden request would be one of the highest levels of spending ever — far more than was spent at the peak of the Korean or Vietnam wars and over $100 billion more than at the height of the Cold War.

The proposed Pentagon budget also dwarfs what the administration is proposing to spend on other ways of protecting America and the world. The proposed defense budget is almost 20 times as much as the amount the administration would allocate to address climate change. And just one weapon system — the troubled F-35 combat aircraft program — is slated to get as much as the discretionary budget for the Centers for Disease Control.

All of the above underscores the reality that funding for programs that will make America and the world a safer place is not unlimited: choices will need to be made. And the biggest threats to lives and livelihoods worldwide are non-military in nature – including a pandemic that has killed millions worldwide, the accelerating ravages caused by climate change, hunger and poverty, and racial and economic injustice. Congress and the administration should give these problems top priority in crafting next year’s budget rather than mindlessly throwing more money at the Pentagon.

Advocates of higher Pentagon spending cite three main reasons for their position: inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the rising challenge posed by China. Given how much the Pentagon is already spending, none of these arguments stand up to scrutiny.

On inflation, hawks want to lock in an artificially high figure that has little to do with the Pentagon’s actual costs, perhaps as high as 8 to 10 percent. Meanwhile, the department wastes billions of dollars on cost overruns and massive overpayments for basic items like spare parts. The Pentagon should get its act together and eliminate rampant waste and fraud before seeking even more money. Furthermore, as Andrew Lautz has pointed out in a recent essay in Responsible Statecraft, advocates of boosting Pentagon outlays are likely to press for the addition of costly items like more F-35 combat aircraft which are more likely to lead to more cost overruns and schedule delays than doing anything to stem the impacts of inflation. It remains to be seen whether areas where inflation may have an impact, like fuel costs and military pay, will be a focus of congressional add-ons.

As for addressing the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Congress and the White House have already authorized $53 billion in assistance to Ukraine, roughly half of which is for military purposes. The military part of the package alone is more than double the level of security assistance supplied to Afghanistan at the peak of the U.S. intervention there. Meanwhile, European allies like Germany are dramatically increasing their own military spending, which means that long-term U.S. increases in military aid and deployments to European allies are neither necessary nor advisable. Last but not least, the Russian military’s poor performance in Ukraine underscores the fact that it is in no position to threaten NATO nations militarily in the near future, if ever. The biggest security challenge posed by Russia is the risk of a nuclear confrontation, which can best be headed off by avoiding escalation of the Ukraine war into a direct U.S./NATO confrontation or backing the Putin regime into a corner in which it believes its survival is at stake.

On the question of China, a new report by my colleague Michael Swaine of the Quincy Institute warns of the dangers of overstating the threat posed by Beijing:

“The United States is not going to build its way out of the current deepening military competition with China . . . It will need to accept the logic of balance over dominance in many areas, fashion credible strategies designed both to deter and reassure Beijing in both regional and global arenas, and strengthen its capacity at home. This will demand a fundamental reassessment of current American policies.”

Swaine further notes – citing a RAND Corporation assessment, that “[b]y many standards, the Chinese military continues to lag far behind that of the United States.” Not only does the United States outspend China on its military by a roughly 3 to 1 margin, but it has 13 times as many nuclear weapons in its stockpile, and a far more capable Navy and Air Force. And this doesn’t even take into account the capabilities of U.S. allies like Australia, Japan and South Korea.

A sensible strategy towards China should highlight diplomacy and cooperation rather than prioritizing the ability to project military force or “win” a war with a nuclear-armed power. This is particularly true given the need to cooperate on urgent challenges like preventing pandemics, curbing climate change, and reducing global poverty.

In short, efforts to increase the Pentagon’s already enormous budget are both misguided and dangerous given the need to invest in addressing other, more urgent threats. It’s time to push back against this wasteful and counterproductive effort.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamhartung/2022/06/10/hawks-arguments-for-jacking-up-pentagon-spending-make-no-sense/