This bloated defense budget, already more than $500 billion per
year (including the expenses for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), will
be hiked by 7 percent. Yet most of that budget will not be spent on
“defense,” which is only a small part of the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s)
Instead, most of the money will be spent on offensively-oriented U.S.
forces and enhance their ability to rapidly conduct imperial forays in
far-flung corners of the world, including the Middle East.
Since retaliation for such adventures is the reason terrorist groups
strike U.S. targets, Americans can expect more such attacks at home and
abroad. Even the new counterterrorism strategy of the Chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff admits that ill-conceived military operations
could swell the ranks of terrorists.
Although the first responsibility of any government—including the
U.S. government—is to protect its people, U.S. taxpayer dollars are
being used to promote overseas empire at the expense of citizens’
security. Traditionally, “threats” from abroad were used to plan U.S.
military forces and the strategy used to employ them. After the Cold War
ended, however, this approach went out of favor because most of the
The continuation of massive U.S. defense budgets—U.S. expenditures
for national defense are equivalent to the total defense budgets of at
least the next 13 highest spending nations combined—had to be justified
by some other means. So the Pentagon moved to “capabilities-based”
This slogan merely means that new weapons technology can be developed
and existing weapons can continue to be purchased, even though no threat
exists for them to counter.
For example, the stealth F/A-22 fighter, the first squadron of which
just recently became operational, was designed to counter Soviet
fighters that were never built. Now the main threat to U.S. fighter
aircraft is not aircraft from other nations, but ground-based
surface-to-air missiles that can be avoided by flying around them.
This program should have been terminated long ago but is kept alive
because it provides jobs in many congressional districts across the
country. Similarly, the U.S. is building new classes of CVN-21 aircraft
carriers, Virginia-class submarines and DD(X) destroyers when the threat
from other naval powers is negligible. Yet the QDR eliminates none of
these unneeded or Cold War weapon systems, although the DoD has more
weapons on the books than it can pay for even with its massive budget.
'War on Terror'
The 9/11 attacks and the subsequent amorphous and unending “war on
terror” have allowed the Pentagon to justify higher defense
budgets—including the aforementioned weapons not suited to fighting
terrorists or guerrillas—to a security-conscious public for the
indefinite future. Yet such adversaries can be best fought with
infantry, special forces, and existing aircraft.
The United States certainly does not need to spend $11 billion a year
on only a minimal defense against attack from nuclear-armed ballistic
missiles. The more likely threat is terrorists smuggling a nuclear
weapon into a port on a ship, rather than launching it on a missile that
they don’t have the technology to develop.
In the QDR, the DoD promises to make homeland defense a greater
priority. But according to Lawrence Korb, a former assistant secretary
of defense, the reality is that the Pentagon spends more on missile
defense than the Coast Guard, which combats more likely threats.
Even military systems that could be used in fighting terrorists and
guerillas need to be effective and cost efficient. The Marine Corps’
V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft—which takes off and lands like a helicopter,
but flies like a fixed wing propeller plane—has had development
problems, including many crashes, and significant cost overruns.
Although the aircraft would be good for hauling Marines fighting
terrorists or guerillas into remote areas with no airfields, the plane
should be cancelled because of its exorbitant costs and meager
advantages over existing helicopters.
Because of the Pentagon’s capabilities-based approach, the QDR fails
to assign priorities to the few remaining threats. For example, what
should be the highest priority for scarce resources: countering the
threat from al Qaeda, the potential threat from an Iran or North Korea
with nuclear weapons, or the possible threat from a rising great
power—such as China or India?
In short, the Bush administration needs to match its rhetoric with
action, putting “defense” back into U.S. defense policy and eliminating
weapons that don’t fit that strategy. This change in policy would make
Americans richer and safer.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.