No matter how one looks at it, the United States has the strongest military in the world. Ever. Period. We have more weapons, more advanced technology, and spend more cash on our troops. Thus, the US military has the greatest ability to make war on other countries, the greatest ability to seek out, target and destroy any enemies of the state. Disregarding, for the time being, issues of responsibility and effectiveness, there are many complications that come with this gigantic engine of war.
It is surprisingly rare that anyone asks about the price.
I am not referring to the fallen soldiers. The worth of their ultimate sacrifice has more to do with whether or not a cause is “just.” I am referring to simple monetary needs, the cash required from the American taxpayer to keep the greatest war machine running. And, once one considers the price, there is of course the question: Is it worth the cost?
In 2008, the defense budget was just over $481,000,000,000. This was a 60 percent increase over the 2001 budget “to ensure a high level of military readiness” for the war on terror. That number, by the way, not much under a half a trillion dollars, did not include an extra $150 billion to run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the year. These numbers are every bit as large as they sound; it is not as though every major Western country spends over a half trillion on “defense” every year. In fact, the United States’ military budget is just under half (48 percent) of all world military spending. Our yearly defense budget is one and a half times that of all Europe combined, including Russia. To put things in perspective, the 2008 number of $480-plus billion is almost equal to the US average for the cold war, even when adjusted for inflation.
One might say that US military costs are comparable to our wealth as a nation, or to spending in other fields. But while almost half of every American citizen’s tax dollars (45 percent to be precise) goes to the defense budget, only 12 percent goes to education, which is the second biggest budget segment (education received $58 billion in 2008). So, it is not as though the defense budget is in balance with any other aspect of the economy, except perhaps the rather staggering national debt.
And now the question of worth. I am sure that many American citizens would be very … interested to find out just what their taxes were paying for. Of the $480 billion, around $80 billion went to homeland security, and then there were troops’ paychecks and equipment. However, it seems as though the Pentagon is continuing its attempts to keep a fully charged cold-war Army battle-ready for Armageddon. Billions each year are still spent on maintaining the ponderous forces of advanced fighter planes, stealth bombers, ballistic missile submarines and ICBM arsenals originally designed to combat the Soviet Union, now rendered nearly obsolete by the change to urban warfare.
Again, regarding 2008, (among other things) $10 billion was spent on “star wars” missile defense, $1.2 billion on an experimental stealth battleship, $2.7 billion on a new attack submarine and, most notably, $10 billion for 12 F-35 fighters and 20 F-22 fighters. This is particularly interesting since the Air Force already had 137 F-22s, which by themselves could easily destroy all of Russia’s less advanced fighter aircraft (which number 105) even without the aid of their less-advanced brethren, the hundreds of F-14s, -15s, -16s and -18s. So, why the call for 20 more? (At the time of this writing, the USAF has 187 F-22s.) Moreover, the F-35 seems to be a childish dream of the Pentagon’s that has gone on for too long. Basically, the F-35 program was begun in 2001 to develop a more advanced F-22 that could stop in midair. And, so far, the program has eaten $270 billion without any operating aircraft to show for it. In fact, F-35 developers Pratt & Whitney (the F-35 is primarily a project of Lockheed Martin) just managed to make the F-35s engine work for the first time on January 8, after nine years of development. So, it is abundantly clear that the military is being very effective with its budget.
Sadly, not much has changed for 2009 (or 2010 thus far). Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed a cancellation of the F-22 program, cuts in futuristic ship development and missile defense and a boost in unmanned drone aircraft that should help US troops in Afghanistan. However, trimmings from the program are now going into the accelerated war in Afghanistan, where 30,000 more troops are being sent for a cool $30 billion per year (at least). And while some complain that the US will no longer have the capacity to fight Russia, China and North Korea simultaneously, the cuts are probably a good thing in the long run. However, it is probably a case of too little, too late. Miscalculations began with the Bush administration in 2001, when Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense, calculated that the Iraq war would cost $50 to $60 billion. And now, nine years later, costs in Iraq alone are over $750 billion.
It seems that the United States has a rather compulsive over-spending issue when it comes to defense. And, as outlined above, not least among the problems are the fantasies of higher-ups at the Pentagon. Instead of finding how better to seek out terrorist cells, many still focus their time and money on the stockpiling of super weapons. If the money spent on giant lasers were redirected to the production of mine-resistant troop transports and better quality hand-held radios, soldiers’ lives would doubtless be saved. Dreaming about giant armies of super soldiers and stealth fighters does no one any good. The Pentagon needs to wake up and do its job effectively.