November 11, 2008


The 4 percent defense spending chimera (Michael O'Hanlon, November 11, 2008, Washington Times)

A number of analysts, and now chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Michael Mullen, have proposed that the Defense Department be legislatively guaranteed 4 percent of the nation's gross domestic product to ensure ample resources for the military into the future. Should this be an early priority of an Obama administration?

The answer is no. Any worries by an incoming Democratic administration that it needs to prove its national security mettle by conceding to this new idea from America's top military officer would be a mistake. While today's U.S. defense budgets are above 4 percent of GDP and likely stay that way for the foreseeable future - as they should - the Defense Department budget does not need to be treated effectively as another federal entitlement. In fact, the goal of those of us focused on national defense policy should be to reduce enough security problems around the world that we will be in a position to cut the defense budget down the road. Just because this option is not responsibly available today does not mean we should forswear it for the future.

To be sure, this country has downsized its military excessively in the past. After World War II, we demobilized to an extreme, and when the Korean War broke out 5 years later the underequipped Task Force Smith was all we could muster as North Korean forces raced through our weak defenses and nearly seized the whole peninsula in the war's opening months.

After Vietnam, our mistakes were less egregious, but a dispirited U.S. military was plagued by indiscipline and other problems among its personnel, aging weaponry, insufficient funds for training, and a general sense of going hollow, as Gen. Shy Meyer memorably declared. What assurances do we have now, Adm. Mullen might wonder, that the same thing will not happen again?

It's vital that it does happen again. One of the things that has made us so formidable in past wars is that we've attrited so thoroughly during peacetime that we built fresh once war came and thus had huge advantages over outdated enemies. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton was in no position to cut as deeply as he should have after the Cold War and the Unicorn Rider isn't strong enough to cut deeply not that the war against the jihadi is winding down.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 11, 2008 4:52 PM
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