How large a military does the U.S. need?

Click to enlarge

A military budget analyst named Travis Sharp did an analysis of Governor Romney’s plan to increase U.S. military spending to 4 percent of Gross Domestic Product, and concluded that, sure enough, the Romney budget was $2 trillion more than the Obama budget over 10 years.

The two lines provide two alternative ways to get to 4 percent of GDP.  The “Romney Ramp Up” line would increase spending by 0.1 of a percent until it reached 4 percent, and then level off.   The “Romney Immediate” line would go immediately to 4 percent and stay there.

Is this too much?  It depends on the mission of the U.S. armed forces.  If the mission is to give the United States full spectrum dominance on every continent, as well as outer space, then 4 percent may not be enough.  But if the mission is to protect United States territory and American citizens, then it probably is too much.

While an Obama administration would spend less on the military than a Romney administration, the mission of the U.S. military would be just as expansive and open-ended.  The difference is that the Obama administration would place greater reliance on the CIA, special forces and flying killer robots and less on regular troops, and would be less likely to attack Iran with troops, but instead content itself with waging war by means of economic blockade, cyber-warfare and state-sponsored terrorism.

During the past 50 years, the U.S. armed forces defeated every enemy they’ve encountered in the field.  But victory in the field proved fruitless, because the U.S. forces have been been unable to compel the civilian population to obey them.  The Taliban in Afghanistan, like the Vietnamese Communists, are ruthless killers and authoritarian rulers, but they are effective ruthless killers.  They are embedded in the population, they know people individually, they can tell friend from foe, which a foreign invader can never do.  Troop buildups and spending on military equipment will not change this.

Here are two more charts, which put U.S. military spending in historic perspective.

The first chart shows U.S. military spending over the years as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.   What it demonstrates is that if a larger military budget really were necessary for national defense, we Americans could afford to tax ourselves to tax ourselves to pay for it.

Click to enlarge.

The next chart shows U.S. military spending in inflation adjusted dollars.  Note that it does not run past fiscal 2009, which began Oct. 1, 2008.  It is the most up-to-date chart I could find in a Google Image search.

Click to enlarge.

The difference between the two charts reflects the increase in U.S. wealth over the years, so that even though the U.S. government spent just as much on its military during the War on Terror as during the Cold War, it is a smaller percentage of U.S. Gross Domestic Product.   So if it really were necessary to increase the military budget, we Americans could afford to tax ourselves to pay for it.  The question is whether it is necessary.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that with a smaller military budget, the U.S. armed forces would be able to go fewer places and do fewer things.  That would be a good thing, not a bad thing.

Click on Budget Crunched: The facts of Romney’s proposed $2 trillion defense increase for Travis Sharp’s full explanation of the difference between the Obama and Romney budgets.   Hat tip to Kevin Drum.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt distinguished between violence, which is the ability to threaten people with harm, and power, which is the ability to get people to do as you say.  Click on Overwrought empire: The discrediting of U.S. military power for an article by Tom Englehardt on the inability of the U.S. military to translate its capacity for violence into real power.

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