Vail Daily column: Rebuilding a depleted military
February 12, 2017
The mission of the United States military is to defend the nation against all enemies and provide combat capabilities anywhere in the world in support of United States' security objectives
President Donald Trump has vowed to re-build our military. But what exactly does that mean? Can we afford it, and aren't we already spending more on our military than every other nation on earth?
During 2015, worldwide military spending totaled roughly $1.6 trillion, with the U.S. accounting for 37 percent of the total. In fact, U.S. military expenditures were equal to the next seven largest military budgets combined.
That said and to make a truly accurate comparison between nations, it's necessary to take into account the size of the country in question, its economic capacity, and the differences in the cost of labor and materials among other things.
Said differently, $1 million in the U.S. will pay fewer soldiers and buy less supplies and material than $1 million will in China or Russia, which means the U.S. must spend more money just to keep pace. As an aside, U.S. military personnel costs accounts for over half of the Defense Department's budget and are far higher than those of China and Russia.
As should be obvious from the aforementioned there's far more than meets the eye when analyzing military spending. So perhaps the most accurate way of comparing military spending among nations is to examine the percentage of a nation's Gross Domestic Product that's spent on defense.
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Using this metric, we find that the United States is ranked 22nd in the world, allotting roughly 3.5 percent of our GDP to defense. Meanwhile, Russia ranks No. 12 allocating 4.5 percent of its GDP on defense; China ranks 43rd spending 2 percent of GDP on its military.
While the majority of Americans believe we must rebuild our military, recent polling indicates that Americans feel we should steer clear of military entanglements not essential to the larger strategic goals of the United States.
In his farewell address, President Eisenhower famously warned the nation about the dangers posed by the military-industrial complex. Having said that, we must also remember that Eisenhower's blueprint for winning the Cold War was that the underlying economic superiority of a free economy, defended by a military second to none, would eventually topple the Soviets, which it did.
Where do we go from here?
It would be imprudent to predicate a national security strategy on dollars and cents alone. Rather, Trump should align the mission of the military with what most Americans want, i.e., a rejection of isolationism and re-embracing our role as world leader.
And it's at this point that addressing the size of the military and the scope of its mission becomes a balancing act. Americans don't want our troops deployed overseas unless U.S. vital interests are at stake. Nor do they want to see soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines committed unless the mission is clearly defined and victory is expected.
At the same time however, history has proven that in the absence of a countervailing force, "bad actors" have and will continue to upset the world order. And let's be clear, there is no such thing as a "world community" to counter balance dictators like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad. If a world community actually existed, then 400,000 Syrians would still be alive, and the world wouldn't be experiencing its worst refugee crisis since the end of World War II.
While taking heed of what Americans want, the administration must also take a clear-eyed view of the military vis-a-vis the social experimentation and the role that political correctness has had in degrading the military's fighting efficiency during the last eight years.
It's no secret there was a great deal of tension between the Obama White House and the Pentagon. As a result many of our most experienced generals and admirals were either asked to step down or opted for early retirement. And those who remained spent much of their time conforming to the new political correctness that has enveloped the military, which included lowering standards in certain combat arms, instead of focusing on improving war-fighting capabilities.
And while America re-builds its forces after eight years of atrophy, it's also hoped Gen. Mattis will advise the president to re-evaluate the numerous alliances that have our service personnel deployed around the world — alliances which in many cases are vestiges from the Cold War and whose missions might need to be modified to more accurately reflect the threats of the 21st century.
The president has a big job ahead of him.
Quote of the day: "We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us," — Winston Churchill.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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