OPED19 Whatever it Costs

During the State of the Union address President Bush said, "My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades -- because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high. Whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay."

While this statement is absolutely true, it does not mean that the level of expenditure called for in the President's defense budget is the appropriate level. There is much debate over what is an appropriate level of defense expenditure. Some argue that too much is being spent on weapons systems that made sense during the Cold war but are of limited use today in a time of asymmetric warfare. Others argue that defense spending should be increased even more than the levels called for in the President's budget, up to at least 4% of GDP. Where exactly does the correct level lie?
Presumably the appropriate level of expenditure should be that which is sufficient for the United States to maintain her security and to respond to any external or internal threat from her enemies. In this case it might be instructive to examine the levels of defense expenditure of the U.S. compared to her allies and her enemies. The following graphs do this, and give slightly different views of these comparisons.

From these we see that U.S. defense expenditures are multiples of the combined total expenditures of all actual and potential enemies. Even given that the U.S. is the sole remaining superpower the disparity would seem to indicate that current defense expenditures should be more than equal to the task of ensuring our freedom and security. This raises the question of whether the expenditures are being made appropriately, and if such a large increase in military spending is necessary when the President's budget calls for all other spending to increase by no more than 2%.
Prior to 9/11 Secretary Rumsfeld had said ".. the adversary's closer to home. It's the Pentagon bureaucracy" and that the money wasted by the military "..could be a matter of life and death". He was conducting the quadrennial defense review and working on reshaping the military to face the new threats facing the United States. Subsequent to 9/11 the idea of reshaping the military seems to have been discarded, and no attempts are being made to correct the many problems that exist (in operations, accounting, readiness, procurement, etc.) Throwing more money at the problem might not be the cure when it is almost impossible to tell where the past monies have gone - for example in March 1999 the Department of Defense Inspector General found $1.57 trillion in unauditable adjustments made to financial statements, and in February 2000 he found $2.3 trillion in unauditable accounting adjustments.
An answer to the question of what needs to be done is far beyond the scope and capability of this OPED. For further research the following provide links to various resources that can be consulted to learn more about this topic:

© SNi 03/02/2002