Yes: We need to beef up our mil­i­tary — and then some


Beer, pizza and de­fense. Amer­i­cans spend more on each of these than any­one else. So what? These facts say noth­ing about how happy, healthy or safe we are. They are mean­ing­less with­out con­text.

Per­haps Amer­i­cans could do with fewer jumbo slices and more gym mem­ber­ships. But when it comes to de­fense spend­ing, Amer­ica needs to spend more, not less.

For starters, com­par­ing our de­fense spend­ing to that of other na­tions doesn’t make much sense.

Wal­mart has more than 2 mil­lion em­ploy­ees. The av­er­age small busi­ness has fewer than 100. Does that mean Wal­mart’s pay­roll is out of whack? Of course not.

The U.S. is a global power, with global re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and global eco­nomic in­ter­ests to de­fend. We need a de­fense bud­get com­men­su­rate with those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and in­ter­ests, not with other na­tions’ lesser global pos­ture.

Aban­don­ing our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and in­ter­ests is not a vi­able op­tion. Europe can’t de­fend Europe with­out us — that’s why we have NATO. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama tried walk­ing away from the Mid­dle East — only to see ISIS and Iran start to take over. Does any­one think turn­ing Asia over to China is a good idea?

No, the U.S. nei­ther can nor should be the world’s po­lice­man. Nor is it our re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure all these places are the land of milk and honey.

But we do need to worry about big, desta­bi­liz­ing prob­lems — things like wars and nu­clear at­tack, that can spread un­told mis­ery around the world, to us and our friends in­cluded.

Nor should a par­tic­u­lar for­eign pol­icy dic­tate the size of the Pen­tagon’s bud­get.

The wis­dom of stay­ing in Afghanistan or hunt­ing down ter­ror­ists in Africa can be de­bated. Still, in the end, the mis­sions don’t tell you how big a mil­i­tary is re­quired.

That would be like pick­ing the size of a fire de­part­ment based on which fires you want to fight. A fire de­part­ment has to be big enough to pro­tect the com­mu­nity. The armed forces need to be big enough to de­fend the U.S. and its vi­tal in­ter­ests.

And, for sure, de­fense spend­ing ought to be ef­fi­cient and ef­fi­ca­cious. That’s a stan­dard that should ap­ply across all of our govern­ment. Our elected of­fi­cials and pub­lic ser­vants should be good stew­ards for the Amer­i­can tax­payer — pe­riod.

Adding all that con­text to­gether, where are we on de­fense spend­ing? The an­swer is: We are short of where we need to be.

Five years ago, my col­leagues at The Her­itage Foun­da­tion de­vel­oped the In­dex of US Mil­i­tary Strength.

Our an­a­lysts es­tab­lished an ob­jec­tive, non­par­ti­san mea­sure of de­fense suf­fi­ciency that graded how much mil­i­tary power Amer­ica ac­tu­ally has in terms of man­power, readi­ness and weaponry; what the armed forces are re­quired to do; and what the world was like — the ac­tual threats that must be ad­dressed.

Our lat­est anal­y­sis, pub­lished this month, con­cludes that, af­ter years of over-use and un­der-fund­ing, the U.S. mil­i­tary is only marginally pre­pared to fight and win in a two-con­flict sce­nario (the stan­dard bench­mark for a global power).

Scrimp­ing on train­ing has re­sulted in low readi­ness lev­els.

Air Force pi­lots, for ex­am­ple, fly only a frac­tion of the train­ing hours they used to. The force isn’t big enough.

The Navy, for in­stance, was un­able — for the first time in a long time — to send an air­craft car­rier to the Mediter­ranean to cover the Mid­dle East.

And the force isn’t mod­ern­iz­ing fast enough. Marines are still driv­ing com­bat ve­hi­cles built in 1972 — ve­hi­cles older than their driv­ers’ par­ents.

Amer­ica’s com­peti­tors can count. They see that our armed forces are too small and ill-pre­pared to take on two re­gional pow­ers si­mul­ta­ne­ously. They know that if Amer­ica doesn’t re­build soon, they can soon match us in their part of the world. That’s a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion — with con­se­quences far more costly than pay­ing for an ad­e­quate na­tional de­fense. A 25-year Army vet­eran, James Jay Carafano is Vice Pres­i­dent for Na­tional Se­cu­rity and For­eign Pol­icy at the Her­itage Foun­da­tion, a think-tank lo­cated on Capi­tol Hill. A grad­u­ate of West Point, he holds a master’s de­gree and a doc­tor­ate from Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity. Read­ers may write him at Her­itage, 214 Mass­a­chu­setts Ave NE, Wash­ing­ton, DC 20002-4999.

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