NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Does The U.S. Spend Enough On The Military?

December 22, 1998

Unless defense spending is increased more than $125 billion over the next five years, the U.S. military will decline to the "hollow force" levels of the 1970s, the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress in September 1998. In the drawdown of the military since the end of the Cold War, the defense budget has been cut by roughly 30 percent since 1989 and the Defense Department has shrunk by 223,000 jobs since 1994.

  • Observers say President Clinton will probably request an increase in annual defense spending of between $10 billion and $20 billion next year.
  • But U.S. defense spending during the Cold War was only 15 percent higher than the current budget; from 1946 to 1990, in inflation-adjusted 1999 dollars, it averaged $310 billion -- compared with $270.5 for 1999.
  • And the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 10 nations put together.

Retention rates for experienced military personnel have fallen due to the good economy, the increased number of overseas deployments and a pay gap that is set to be remedied.

  • The gap between civilian and military pay is an estimated 13 percent; but some experts say the gap is closer to 8 percent and does not include untaxed benefits, such as monthly cash allowances and health care.
  • Thus a Navy chief with 20 years' service receives basic pay of $28,732 annually, but total compensation of $50,727, according to Navy Times.
  • A 3.6 percent pay raise in fiscal 1999, and a planned 2000 pay increase of 4.4 percent, should close the gap.

Finally, they say the military is able to attract qualified recruits -- for instance, 90 percent of recruits in 1997 had high school diplomas compared to just 70 percent 20 years earlier.

Source: James Kitfield, "The Hollow Force Myth," National Journal, December 12, 1998.


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