NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

What Level Of Military Spending Is Enough?

February 1, 2000

President Clinton is expected to ask for an increase of 7 percent in his 2001 military budget. That would be an increase of $18 billion, for a total of $291 billion. Some experts say that is not enough.

Except for a minuscule increase in 1992, the Pentagon's budget has dropped every year since 1985.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies figures the Pentagon needs an extra $100 billion per year to maintain enough force to fight two major regional conflicts simultaneously plus handle several smaller contingencies.

Here are some of the reasons analysts say the nation must devote greater resources to its military:

  • Personnel shortfalls have reportedly forced the Pentagon to drop two Army divisions -- 12,000 to 22,000 soldiers each -- from its combat-ready list.
  • Maintenance backlogs have grounded one out of four Air Force fighters.
  • Navy ships are setting sail with fewer sailors aboard.
  • From tanks to bombers to helicopters, the armed forces' hardware is aging fast and wearing out.

Moreover, military systems are being "modernized" by retiring older equipment without replacing it, experts say.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution estimates the Pentagon must spend $30 billion to $40 billion more per year to pay for current modernization plans. Buying fewer new systems and privatizing more defense functions could cut the current shortfall in half, he says.

Not everyone agrees that more spending is needed. Cato Institute analyst Ivan Eland points out that the U.S. is currently spending "what the next seven countries spend combined, and most of those are our friends." In his view, the U.S. cannot afford to be everywhere in the world.

Source: Brian Mitchell, "Defense Gets New Shot in the Arm," Investor's Business Daily, February 1, 2000.


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