Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Cost of War and Peace in the Next World Order

According to the CIA World Fact Book, the U.S. spent an estimated $518 billion on its military in 2005. Second was scary old China, which spent a paltry $81.5 billion. Following behind the big two were Japan, England, Germany, Italy and South Korea, ranging between $21 billion and $45 billion. (CIA figures for England, Germany and Italy are from 2003.)

A perennial defense of America's defense spending has been that it's only a small percentage of the Gross Domestic Product. In 2005, for example, it was 4.06 percent of the total $12.41 trillion economy. Taken out of context, that sounds like a small number, until you note that China's military budget is around 1 percent of its GDP of $8.182 trillion. Besides which, nobody ever won or deterred a war based on the percentage of its GDP it spent on its military. Nations that spend a greater percent of their GDP on arms than the U.S. include such traditional war fighting powerhouses as Djibouti (4.3 percent), Brunei (5.1 percent) and Eritrea (17.7 percent). Even 100 percent of very little is still very little.

But 50 percent of everything is a hell of a lot, which is where America's military spending stands. As Jane's Defense Weekly notes, America now spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.

Is the Bush administration planning on fighting a war with the rest of the entire world? I'm thinking that even those yahoos know better than to try something like that. Then again, you never know with that crowd.


It's pretty clear that America's military industrial political complex has us spending way, way, way more than we need to on military arms. But it's also intuitively obvious that the United States can't afford to do without a robust armed force in the Next World Order. But how much force do we need, and what do we need it for?

In terms of symmetric force versus force war, the two most obvious--though unlikely--scenarios are defending Taiwan from an invasion by China and defending South Korea from an invasion from the North. The former is largely a maritime interdiction problem. We'd want to stop the Chinese invasion force as it crossed the Strait of Formosa. The latter would be a land war.

We'll no doubt want to maintain a security sponsorship of Israel, which is still surrounded by nations unfriendly to it. But Israel has proven itself rather adept at repelling invasions with little if any direct help from us.

There's an outside possibility that Russia, in a desperate attempt to regain its former prestige and glory, might try to invade Western Europe. But seriously, folks. Russia's done. Its economy is roughly the size of Brazil's ($1.5 trillion) and its once mighty Cold War arsenal is rusting on the flight line, molding in the silo, sinking at the pier, or burning in Chechnya.

There are unpredictable unknowns, of course. Panama could go up for grabs. Syria might invade Lebanon. Somebody might try to take over a weakened Iraq by force, but after having observed our fiasco in that country, who'd be crazy enough to want to repeat it?

Speaking of Iraq, if there's one lesson we needed to learn from that woebegone war it's that we don't want to do preemptive invasions and occupations any more.

What about the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction?

We have these things called deterrence and retaliation. We also have enough city buster nukes left over from the Cold War to barbecue our entire planet, and Mars and Venus and Mercury besides. Anybody who pops a ballistic missile nuke off in our direction knows that we'll know where it came from right away. And anybody who wants to give a nuke to a terrorist knows we'll know where the terrorist got it.


What do we need defense wise? A lot less than we have now. How much less? Well, if we leave the decision on that to the Pentagon and the military industrial political complex, we'll wind up with more, not less.

So here's my proposal. Start by cutting the Department of Defense Budget in half. Don't cut corners by chipping away at military veterans' benefits. Get rid of stuff, and quit making more of it. Dump at least two aircraft carriers and only produce one per decade, at most. Cut off funding for further procurement of Cold War dinosaurs like the F-22 fighter and the B-2 bomber. Bring along the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and make that the last of the manned combat aircraft. No new classes of submarines. The ones we have now are swift and silent enough. No new classes of naval surface combatants. If we didn't get it right with the Arleigh Burke missile destroyers, we never will. The tanks we have now are fine. You want them to burn less gas, give them new engines. If you want them more invulnerable, give them new armor.

Whatever you do, don't let generals and politicians and arms industry CEOs convince you that you need to spend more and more tax dollars on fantastical weaponry to "keep America safe."

Because you don't.

The Next World Order Series:

Part I: America's 21st Century Military

Part II: Network-centric Warfare

Part III: America's Military Industrial Complex

Part IV: The Revolt of the Retired Generals

Part V: What Good is War?

Part VI: Body Count

Part VII: Order in the Next World Order


  1. sounds like a great plan. but with those in office now, its likely to never happen.

    this seems appropriate in today's world:
    "You can no more win a war than you can win an earthquake." - Jeannette Rankin (1880 - 1973)

    and i just like this one:
    "When the politicians complain that TV turns the proceedings into a circus, it should be made clear that the circus was already there, and that TV has merely demonstrated that not all the performers are well trained." -Edward R. Murrow (1908 - 1965)

  2. Kristie, thanks for two really evocative and significant quotes.

  3. Although I'm far from an expert on this, it appears to me that if we continue along our current course, we will experience a fiscal meltdown, as happened to the Soviets from their Afghanistan adventure. As it is, the Chinese hold more than $1trillion of our paper, and no debtor's future is ever secure.

    But aside from the money: what about our loss of manufacturing capacity? There was a great exhibit in a local museum about the rapid rise of the Kaiser shipyards, and watching the videos and reading the display notes, my first thought was: Would we be able to muster such a response again, given our loss of manufacturing facilities and know-how? And meanwhile, we've sold off the 'edge' we once had in such things as precision machining technology.

    Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between paranoia that's pathological and paranoia that's justified, but I am very, very worried...

  4. Anonymous12:40 PM

    What's going on in VA Beach, OPSO? Your blog is always an interesting read. Sure you saw this article from NYT (on anonymous midlevel officers and their opinions of Rumsfeld):

    Another Army major who served in Iraq said a fresh round of debates about the future of the American military had also broken out. Simply put, the question is whether the focus should be, as Mr. Rumsfeld believes, on a lean high-tech force with an eye toward possible opponents like China, or on troop-heavy counterinsurgency missions more suited to hunting terrorists, with spies and boots on the ground.

    In general, the Army and Marines support maintaining beefy ground forces, while the Navy and Air Force — the beneficiaries of much of the high-tech arsenal — favor the leaner approach. And some worry that those arguments have become too fierce.

    "I think what has the potential for scarring relations is the two visions of warfare — one that envisions near-perfect situational awareness and technology dominance, and the other that sees future war as grubby, dirty and chaotic," the major said. "These visions require vastly different forces. The tension comes when we only have the money to build one of these forces. Who gets the cash?"

    I thought we had answered this question just a few years ago, like before I was born, in that minor trouble in Southeast Asia ... What do you think??

    PS. Old news, but look who it is: