Getting serious about defense spending

After years of criticism – mostly from the right – that President Clinton had allowed the U.S. military to deteriorate like the hollow forces of the 1970s, he finally gave in. Or that is what he would like the public to believe.

During his State of the Union address in January, he said, “It is time to reverse the decline in defense spending that began in 1985.” Clinton promised increased funds for readiness, modernization and increased pay for U.S. servicemen and women. However, as with much of what is said by our current commander in chief, the truth is not so simple.

Clinton claimed that his fiscal year 2000 budget, which was submitted to Congress at the beginning of February, represented a $12.6 billion increase in defense spending and an estimated $110 billion over the next six years would be added. A closer examination reveals that this purported increase is nothing more than a political facade meant to evade Republican attacks on his weak defense policy.

To start, last year Congress’ final appropriations for defense totaled $279 billion, including an emergency supplemental bill approved late in the session, and Clinton’s FY 2000 budget for defense is $280.8 billion, only a $1.8 billion increase. When inflation is factored in, Clinton’s $12.6 billion increase quickly becomes a $3.8 billion decrease in defense spending.

However, even if we assume that there is $12 billion of “new funds” going to Department of Defense coffers, few of these dollars would actually go to solve the military’s critical readiness and modernization needs. For starters, $3 billion will go to fund an increase in military pay and retirement benefits. Though this is sorely needed and should have been approved long ago, this alone will not stop the exodus of high quality individuals from the military.

Retention problems are more a function of eroding morale and esprit de corps – the very essence of military culture – because of long deployments overseas, the lack of confidence in military and civilian leaders and President Clinton’s disastrous social experimentation in the armed forces. Add to that $2 billion for the peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and that leaves only $7 billion for all the military’s readiness and modernization needs; a paltry sum that even the Joint Chiefs of Staff say is inadequate.

A recent study by two respected defense analysts – Dr. Dan Goure of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Jeffrey Ranney of Management Support Technology Inc. – further support this point. They concluded that the U.S. military would need an increase of approximately $100 billion per year or more through 2010 to meet the military strategy laid out by the Department of Defense in the May 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review.

Before we continue to look at the defense budget simply as a way to fund domestic programs, it is imperative that we realize what our military has done and continues to do for the country and people worldwide.

Our forces have kept Europe safe from Nazi fascism and Soviet communism and they have protected Asia from Japanese imperialism. Today the United States guarantees the security of South Korea, Taiwan, our friends and allies in the Middle East and around the world. In every corner of the world there are powers that wish to harm the United States and its allies, and the first and last line of defense is our armed forces.

This century has been the most bloody in history, but it did not have to turn out that way. Time and time again the U.S. belief that the world was safe and that our defenses could be drawn down have led to greater costs in lives and treasure.

We are not doomed to repeat past mistakes. It is long since past the time for the United States to stop asking its military to do more with less and fully embrace the doctrine of “peace through strength” so that countless Americans do not have to die on foreign battlefields again.

-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.

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