There is a common consensus that the US spends too much on the military. Today I want to point out that everything is not as simple as it seems and that there maybe a need to increase military spending. While it is true that in terms of hard numbers the US spends more than the next 7 countries combined things break down when we calculate it as a percentage of GDP. In that case Saudi Arabia (10.4%), Israel (5.2 %) and Russia (4.8%) all clock in higher than the US (3.5%). This is compounded by the fact that analysts don’t really believe the figures declared by China and Russia and think they spend more than they are showing.
Cost of Living
China and Russia get more bang out of their buck when spending in the military and that may not be a bad thing. Critics will say it is because of waste or inefficiency but it mostly has to do with the cost of living in the various countries. When you look at the military budget 25% is for wages. It is the second largest portion behind operation and maintenance at 43%. The simple fact is when you hire an American soldier he has higher standards that must be met than hiring a Chinese soldier. At a bare minimum you would be paying a salary 10 times what you would pay someone in China. This is actually a very generous comparison as in reality you would most likely be paying 15 to 20 times more. In plain english this means that if you were to give China and the US the same amount of money to spend on the military the Chinese army would be 20 times larger. In addition to the wages the US serviceman would most likely expect better food and facilities than their chinese counterparts. Recall that if the budget is the same the Chinese army would be 20 times larger. In 2014 the US budget was only 4 times that of China. In fact the easiest way to reduce military spending is to reduce the salary of US servicemen to equal that of the Chinese, yet if we do that the military may actually mutiny.
Cost of Equipment
Just as American soldiers cost more than their counterparts American equipment does as well. Any superpower strives to have their arms and equipment produced in country. America would like to have their planes built in the US and the Russians would like to have their planes built in Russia. The security reasons are obvious. If a war were to break out you would like to be sure that there would be no disruptions in your line of supply and if the country producing one of your parts were to go to war with you, you don’t want them to feed you defective products. The fact that some of our tank parts are only produced in Germany is actually a cause for concern in some circles.
This does mean we have to pay more for equipment that is almost the same quality. American workers cannot get by on the slave wages given to chinese or even Russian workers. This is not purely a bad thing as the wages to the workers and soldiers act as a local stimulus to their economies. Yet the point is still made that a bigger amount spent does not necessarily equate to more weapons or soldiers.
We are at a historically low point in military spending. During the term of President Reagan military spending was at around 6% and our military doctrine was win 2. At any point in time the US military was supposed to be able to win against 2 major powers at once most likely China and Russia. During the term of President Clinton the doctrine changed to win 1 hold 1. The military was supposed to be able to win one engagement while holding the line in the other. At this point in time we reduced our carrier battle groups from 15 to the 11 we have today and our active military from 3 million to 2.1 million. During the Bush years the strategy changed again to being able to maintain peace in 4 regions fight 2 engagements and win one. Lastly under Obama it changed to the various pivots with the military only focusing on one area at a time.
Under standard military doctrine equipment is supposed to have 30 year life cycles. To save money some equipment were retained even if they cost more to maintain. Some equipment used today was made in the 1950’s or 1960’s. The f-15’s were due to be replaced as well but due to costs were kept instead of upgrading to the f-20’s and now has increased maintainence costs. Even the popular a-10 warthog was supposed to be retired years ago but was kept past its expiration date.
Not all Bad
I am not definitively saying that military spending needs to be increased. It is just as simple as everyone makes it out to be. Aside from providing defense military spending also allows us to hire more soldiers which then spend the money in their local communities. Building more goods also allows us to redirect those new factories to districts in need which create good paying jobs for them. Aside from the military applications military spending is also a stimulus. Redirecting labor to soldiering also forces companies to compete more competitively for existing labor raising wages there.