If President Barack Obama’s $708 billion defense budget is approved, it will be the largest since World War II, accounting for nearly 20 percent of the federal government’s spending. While many people “view the Pentagon as an item that should be cut but can’t [be],” Veronique de Rugy writes in Reason (July 2010), reducing America’s unsustainable military spending is not only necessary—it’s possible. Merely tweaking the Pentagon’s supply chain and personnel management practices—or eliminating a handful of controversial weapons systems—could save $50 billion each year.
The problem, according to de Rugy, is unwillingness on both sides of the political divide to question the Pentagon’s numbers—even though the logic behind the reticence is tenuous at best. Liberals, cowed by opportunistic opponents with a propensity for muscle flexing, have concluded that reducing defense spending would be political suicide, even though cuts in military spending have been achieved 26 times over the past 70 years with negligible impact at the polls.
Conservatives, on the other hand, have national security on the brain and believe that turning tax dollars into battleships will buy peace of mind. De Rugy notes, however, that in 2008 the United States accounted for 44 percent of global military spending—eight times as much as Russia and China spend independently—and wonders whether these countries are “in less danger of a terrorist attack than we are.”
Some conservatives have proposed that defense spending should be figured as a percentage of the GDP; the problem, de Rugy writes, is that “demanding that military spending be driven by economic growth is just another way of saying that military spending is not about safety. It’s about spending as an end in itself.”