President Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in military spending, thereby increasing total defense spending to $603 billion, according to several established news outlets. Echoing campaign promises of a leaner government, President Trump pledged to cut costs from a variety of governmental agencies and other discretionary sources to make up for the roughly 10% increase in military expenditures. This commitment to reducing funding to redundant and bloated programs should give fans of smaller government something to cheer about, but not everyone is pleased with the proposed spending increase/decrease.
CNN recently published an article illustrating just how much other countries can purchase with $54 billion dollars, pointing out that China (probably our greatest strategic competitor) has an estimated 2020 budget of $233 billion. Many on the left are quick to point out that the United States already spends more than any other country when it comes to the military, and while they aren’t wrong they miss the point.
Put plainly, the United States operates in too many places providing too much support not to spend more than anyone else does. As we have seen with the recent NATO spending issues, the United States is picking up the slack that many nations are leaving. Even so, we could do better with the money we have.
While the military needs equipment updates to maintain its technological edge, it also needs better accountability of the money it is currently using. According to U.S. News and World Report, a 2015 study identified $125 billion in administrative waste within the Department of Defense — waste that could be eliminated over a five-year streamlining period. The DOD, apparently, ignored and subsequently buried this report.
Even if internal management isn’t an issue, procurement is. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is currently six years behind schedule and $170 billion over budget. Despite this, the executive director of the program, Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, has claimed, “This program is not out of control.” Current estimates show that the lifetime operation and support costs of the program would likely reach the trillion-dollar mark.
The areas in which cuts are proposed have also given some a moment of pause. While the official budget proposal has yet to be released, it has been made clear that the EPA and the State Department, specifically foreign aid programs, would receive significant cuts. And while those quick to chant “America first” may be pleased by the potential reduction in foreign aid spending, many strategic thinkers disagree with the plan.
A recent article by Reuters describes a letter signed by more than a hundred retired U.S. generals and admirals, urging Congress to keep U.S. foreign and diplomatic aid fully funded. The letter highlights that diplomacy and defense go hand in hand saying, “elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe.”
Signatories like General David Petraeus, former CIA director and commander of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, former supreme allied commander of NATO, further highlight the strategic importance of aid programs.
The State Department, USAID, Millennium Challenge Corporation, Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.
The need for strategic thinking is critical in this situation, and those who know their Clausewitz would agree. Military action is a means to a political end, and diplomatic programs like foreign aid are one of the ways that the United States engages the world strategically. They are the carrot to the military’s stick.
We should be wary of drastically cutting our ability to dole out carrots, especially when the use of the stick results in the spilling of American blood.