The FY2008 Military Budget

On Friday I wrote, “my ideal president would expend a significant portion of their political capital on the bland and unrewarding task of rationalizing the budget.” To balance the budget one cannot niggle over small change programs. A million here or a million there is chump-change in a $2.9 trillion budget. One has to turn to the big line items and that should include military spending. Today Democracy Arsenal points out just how crazy-detached from reality the military budget has become in recent years (Kelly, Lorelei, “How High is Up? The Defense Budget Gets Even Crazier,” 18 December 2007):

Last week, both houses of Congress approved the conference report on the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization bill, H.R. 1585. The bill includes $506.9 billion for the Department of Defense and the nuclear weapons activities of the Department of Energy. The bill also authorizes $189.4 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This funding is NOT counted as part of the $506.9 billion.

Keep in mind, today’s defense spending is 14% above the height of the Korean War, 33% above the height of the Vietnam War, 25% above the height of the “Reagan Era” buildup and is 76% above the Cold War average.

In fact, since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the annual defense budget – not including the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan – has gone up 34%. Including war costs, defense spending has gone up 86% since 2001.

But where to cut? Given our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan it seems that the United States has a problem in on-the-ground troop strength and the Democratic candidates are all talking about increasing that. Given the vagaries of air power projection we probably should keep a regular replacement schedule for aircraft carriers. I have suggested that anti-submarine warfare will probably be important in the near future, so we should probably keep those skills primed (“ABM,” 14 October 2007). There is missile defense, but that is only $10 billion — only $230 billion to go before we’re back in the black. The obvious thing seems to me to be advanced tactical fighters. Is there a single potential opponent out there that will be able to come anywhere close to contending with the U.S. for tactical air superiority any time in the coming decade? But between the Joint Strike Fighter and the F/A-22 the U.S. is only spending $6.24 billion in 2008.

I guess the thing we could cut would be the breadth of our commitments, but that’s a hard political call of another scale than putting off a generation of aircraft procurement.

Anyway, if you want to play your own Pentagon budget scenarios, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has a nice breakdown of the fiscal year 2008 military budget (Hellman, Christopher and Travis Sharp, “Analysis of Conference Agreement on the FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill [H.R. 1585/S. 1547],” 12 December 2007).