Military spending cut myths

Robert Samuelson:
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Three bogus arguments are commonly made to rationalize big military cuts.
 
First, we can’t afford today’s military. 
Not so. How much we spend is a political decision. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the country was much poorer, 40 percent to 50 percent of the federal budget routinely went to defense, representing 8 to 10 percent of our national income. By 2010, a wealthier America devoted only 20 percent of federal spending and 4.8 percent of national income to the military. Spending on social programs replaced military spending, but that shift has gone too far. 
Second, we spend so much more than anyone else that cutbacks won’t make us vulnerable. 
In 2009, U.S. defense spending was six times China’s and 13 times Russia’s, according to estimates from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The trouble with these numbers is that they don’t truly adjust for differences in income levels. U.S. salary and procurement costs are orders of magnitude higher than China’s, for example. But China’s military manpower is about 50 percent greater than ours, and it has a fighter fleet four-fifths as large. This doesn’t mean that China’s military technology yet equals ours, but differences in reported spending are wildly misleading. 
Third, the Pentagon has so much inefficiency and waste that sizable cuts won’t jeopardize our fighting capability. 
Of course there is waste and inefficiency. These are being targeted in the $450 billion of additional cuts over 10 years — beyond savings from Iraq and Afghanistan — that President Obama and Congress agreed to this year. Former defense secretary Robert Gates had already cut major programs, including the F-22 stealth fighter, that he judged unneeded. Savings can be had from overhauling Tricare, the generous health insurance program for service members and retirees. But like most bureaucratic organizations, the Pentagon will always have some waste. It’s a myth that it all can be surgically removed without weakening the military. 
Defense spending is unlike other spending, because protecting the nation is a government’s first job. It’s in the Constitution, as highways, school lunches and Social Security are not. We should spend as much as needed, but that amount is never clear. Even in the Cold War, when the Soviet Union’s capabilities were intensively analyzed, there was no scientific and exact number.
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There is more.

The Clinton cuts haunted us during much of the current war where we were short of troops needed to effect a counter insurgency strategy.   We should not make that mistake again because our enemies have decided that an insurgency is the best way to deal with our overwhelming conventional strength.  We also need to replace and upgrade our equipment that has been excessively used over the past 10 years.

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