A recent article in the Catalyst described how defense spending cutbacks have negatively affected Colorado Springs. Although those cuts may be painful to the local economy, they are necessary.

The US military is by far the most powerful military in the world. It also consumes far too much of our federal budget. In 2012, the US spent $645.7 billion on defense. That figure is more than the next 15 nations combined, and most of those nations are American allies. US military spending is six times greater than China’s and eleven times greater than Russia’s.

military spending
Illustration by Elli LaCourt

The current US military budget is also high, historically speaking. 2012’s defense
budget was the largest since World War II. That’s right –  the US spent less on defense during the Cold War when the Soviet Union had 45,000 nuclear warheads pointed at us than it does today.

There simply isn’t a nation state that poses a threat to the US. The Soviet Union is gone. China, the country that most people point to when trying to justify the bloated defense budget, is too tied to the US economically to even think going to war with America. In the event of a Sino-American war, the Chinese would lose access to the world’s largest consumer market and the US would refuse to pay back the $1.2 trillion dollars that it owes China. This would be disastrous for the Chinese economy and is enough to deter a Chinese leadership obsessed with economic growth.

The only threats the US faces now are asymmetric: third-world countries like North Korea and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. If these enemies attack America, they’re not going to do so with traditional, conventional tactics, since they would quickly be destroyed. Thus, they don’t fight us in a conventional manner anymore. The US Air Force hasn’t been in an air-to-air engagement since Kosovo in 1999. The Navy hasn’t been in a major sea battle since Okinawa in 1945.

Yet, the Pentagon pours money into maintaining the ability to fight a World War II-style conventional war. Large numbers of aircraft carriers, tanks, planes, and submarines are good for show, but they are hardly necessary for fighting terrorists whose idea of an advanced weapon is an underwear bomb. Furthermore, the Iraq War is over and the War in Afghanistan is winding down, making large military expenditures even less necessary.

Even if there were a legitimate threat of war, huge expenditures wouldn’t be necessary. The US has a remarkable ability to build up its forces from almost nothing when it has to. At the start of World War II, the US spent about one percent of its budget on defense and was ranked 17th in terms of military power (our military was smaller than Finland’s). By the end of the war, the US had the world’s largest Air Force and Navy and the second largest Army. While I don’t advocate going back to 17th place, being number one by a smaller margin certainly won’t destroy America.

Furthermore, the money spent on the military is needed elsewhere. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our education system is one of the worst in the developed world, and our debt is at a record high. If the US were to cut the defense budget by about 15.5 percent, we would save $100 billion annually. That’s enough money to make public higher education tuition-free ($60 billion), fix all of America’s bridges ($20.5 billion), provide high-quality pre-school to every American child ($9.8 billion), and still have money left over.  Furthermore, 15.5 percent is a relatively small amount; the US cut defense spending by more than 25 percent after Korea, Vietnam, and the Cold War without any problems.

Across-the-board cuts, like the ones brought on by the sequester, are bad for the military. Spending cuts should be targeted to eliminate waste and avoid hurting national security. There are some areas of military spending that should not be cut such as intelligence, cyber security, and the Special Forces. In fact, some of these programs should receive an increase in funding. These programs are the most cost-effective and also the most operationally effective, so a net decrease in military spending must be accomplished by cutting waste elsewhere.

The US military should immediately cut weapons systems designed to fight a large conventional war. For example, one Ford-class supercarrier costs about $9 billion to construct and $7 million a day to operate. The Navy plans on building 10 of them, even though no other country has a single supercarrier. A more reasonable number (say, seven or eight) would save billions of dollars while still giving the US Navy an advantage over other navies.

Another place to reduce expenditures regards tanks. The M1 Abrams tank guzzles gas in a way that makes a Hummer look like a Prius. Its gas turbine engine requires more than a gallon per mile and 15 gallons just to start up. Furthermore, the engine requires high maintenance: the Army spends 25 percent of its ground vehicle maintenance budget on the Abrams engine alone. The Army currently has more than 8,000 Abrams tanks and Congress is buying them more, even though the generals opposed building more tanks. The Army should reduce this number to between 2,000 and 3,000 since it’s unlikely to encounter a significant armored force anytime soon. The remaining tanks should replace the gas turbine engine with a lower-maintenance and more fuel-efficient diesel engine.

There are many places to cut spending, and it’s impossible to name them all in this article. Other spending areas to cut are submarines, destroyers, nukes, aircraft, and overseas bases. The number of active-duty troops in the Army and the Marines will have to be reduced as well, especially as Afghanistan winds down. The military should also to reform its healthcare system, which can be done so in a way that waste is eliminated without harming benefits.

While these cuts might not be the best for Colorado Springs, they are good for the nation. The Cold War is over, and our budget should reflect that. Furthermore, the billions of dollars spent on wasteful defense programs are badly needed elsewhere.

William Kim, Staff Writer

 

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