A running theme in discussions of U.S. military strength in recent years is the notion that the United States is not spending enough on the military, and that as a result the current U.S. military is "in shambles," or, even worse, "a disaster." Nothing could be further from the truth.
On the spending front, it is important to remember that the Obama administration has spent more on the military than was spent during the administration of George W. Bush, and that current levels of spending exceed the peak year of the Reagan buildup of the 1980s.
The nearly $600 billion per year now devoted to the Pentagon and related agencies is more than the amount spent on their militaries by the next seven largest spenders in the world combined, including two and one-half times what China spends and nine times what Russia spends.
If there is a problem with Pentagon spending, it isn't that there's not enough of it. It is that it is being poorly managed and poorly allocated. We don't need more Pentagon spending. We need more spending discipline.
Despite the fact that the Pentagon wastes tens of billions of dollars per year buying things we don't need, the U.S. military's capabilities are unparalleled. As Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted in testimony before Congress earlier this year, "At no time in my career have I been more confident than this instant in saying we have the most powerful military on the face of the planet."
No other nation has a military with global reach. The United States currently has 10 active aircraft carriers. China and Russia have one each, and neither is as capable as a current generation U.S. carrier. In a speech to the Naval War College early in the Obama administration, then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said "The United States has the most powerful Navy in the world by far: "The US Navy . . . in terms of tonnage . . . is larger than the next 13 navies combined -- and 11 of those 13 navies are U.S. allies or partners . . . The overmatch in terms of capabilities is even greater."
Gordon Adams has done a good capsule summary of the capabilities of the U.S armed forces:
"the United States has the only truly global military -- one that can deploy forces anywhere, fly anywhere, and sail anywhere. Unlike other militaries around the world, it has a truly global network of bases and global logistics, transportation, communications, and intelligence. It has Special Operations forces that, at nearly 70,000 troops deployed in over 80 countries, outnumber the militaries of all but a handful of countries."
The other line of attack favored by those who seek more money for the Pentagon is to claim that there is a "readiness crisis" due to the caps on Pentagon spending that were imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011. This a misleading claim.
The truth is, although the caps have kept the Pentagon from buying everything on its wish list, they have still left its budget at historically high levels, as noted above. Congress has moved the caps upward twice, and the Pentagon has used the war budget -- which is not subject to the caps - as a slush fund to pay for tens of billions of dollars worth of items that have nothing to do with fighting wars.
To the extent that there is a readiness problem it is because Congress and the Pentagon have been neglecting readiness funds in favor of pet projects that have little or nothing to do with supporting troops in the field.
There is plenty of fat that can be cut at the Pentagon -- more than enough to make up for any shortfalls in providing training and appropriate equipment to our troops. High on the list of unnecessary expenditures is the plan to spend $1 trillion dollars over the next three decades to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, submarines and missiles when the United States already possesses massive nuclear overkill. Another misguided expenditure is the Pentagon's use of over 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do work that duplicates that of government employees. And as the Project on Government Oversight has noted, the troubled F-35 aircraft, which is currently projected to be the most expensive weapons program in the history of the Pentagon, may never be ready for combat. The F-35 could be scaled back or replaced with upgraded versions of current aircraft at a savings of tens of billions of dollars in the coming years.
In addition to spending on goods and services we don't need, the Pentagon is extremely careless in how it spends taxpayer dollars. It is the only major federal agency that cannot pass an audit. This sloppy accounting renders the Department of Defense uniquely vulnerable to waste, fraud, and abuse. The Pentagon routinely overpays for routine spare parts, and despite Congressional criticism, it has not even been able to keep its employees from using their government-issued credit cards to pay for frivolous items like visits to casinos and strip clubs. These expenditures add up. In a report earlier this year I documented $33 billion in Pentagon waste generated by 27 separate projects over a multi-year period.
The bottom line is that the United States has the strongest military in the world, and that there are more than enough resources available to keep it that way if the Pentagon and the Congress spend them wisely. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.