NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 2, 2005

Recent dips in Army enlistments have fueled a new conventional wisdom: that the U.S. military is almost dangerously undermanned, exhausted and overstretched. But how accurate is this picture of military disarray, asks Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

On demographic grounds, our troop mobilizations are hardly a drain on the U.S. population base, he says:

  • In a country of about 300 million residents, we have about 1.4 million troops deployed worldwide.
  • Yet in 1974, during the first full year of the all-volunteer army, the United States deployed 1.9 million soldiers, drawing on a population of more than 210 million.
  • In other words, when the population was just 70 percent of our current size, the armed forces sustained troop levels 1.3 times larger than our present military.

Critics harp on the expenses of the war on terror and suggest that we are unable to sustain such a drain:

  • Yet, in the first full year of the volunteer army, military expenditures accounted for 58 percent of discretionary spending, or about 5.5 percent of the gross domestic product.
  • In 2003, when we invaded Iraq with 200,000 troops and conducted reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, we allotted only 49 percent of discretionary spending to defense, some 3.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) -- itself a moderate rise from 1999-2000, when defense expenditure had descended to the historical low of about 3 percent of GDP.
  • This suggests the armed forces were inadequate to meet the security profile of the United States well before Sept. 11.

If it turns out that we need more troops in the military, based on historical precedents and today's resources, we surely have the population and national wealth to field larger forces than we presently deploy and to pay them more than we do now, says Hanson.

Source: Victor Davis Hanson, "Where will war take U.S. next?" Dallas Morning News, July 31, 2005.


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