Government programs normally have an objective, a goal. There are funded programs to educate children, help the elderly, provide housing for the poor, build bridges and highways, etc. These programs normally have recognized, specific goals and are funded commensurate with the goals.
The government also has programs to provide security. Currently “homeland security” is a program to secure the ports and borders of the country, and there is also a program, costing hundreds of billions of dollars, as much as all other countries on the planet spend combined, to provide what are called conventional military forces.
The question is, do these very expensive military programs have an objective, a goal?
Ideally a determination of what the military is supposed to be able to do in the future would be based on a threat analysis, and this would determine the size and type of force that is needed.
Robert S. McNamara addressed this systematic approach in the 1960’s with his Planning, Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS). The idea was to analyze defense requirements systematically and produce a long-term, program-oriented Defense budget. Of course the results of PPBS were perverted by the Vietnam War but the approach was correct.
Has there been a threat analysis resulting in a long-term, program-oriented defense budget?
Let’s look at the most recent National Defense Strategy and see what it says about military threats to the US (extracts):
Since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania seven years ago, we have been engaged in a conflict unlike those that came before. Violent extremist movements such as al-Qaeda and its associates comprise a complex and urgent challenge.The United States has worked with its partners to defeat the enemies of freedom and prosperity, assist those in greatest need, and lay the foundation for a better tomorrow.
Violent extremist movements such as al-Qaeda and its associates comprise a complex and urgent challenge.
Rogue states such as Iran and North Korea similarly threaten international order.
We must also consider the possibility of challenges by more powerful states.
China is one ascendant state with the potential for competing with the United States. For the foreseeable future, we will need to hedge against China’s growing military modernization and the impact of its strategic choices upon international security.
Russia’s retreat from openness and democracy could have significant security implications for the United States, our European allies, and our partners in other regions.
The President’s 2006 National Security Strategy (NSS) describes an approach founded on two pillars: promoting freedom, justice, and human dignity by working to end tyranny, promote effective democracies, and extend prosperity; and confronting the challenges of our time by leading a growing community of democracies.
As Porky Pig said many times: “Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-That’s all folks!”
There ain’t no more. We’ve got:
o a non-military threat of terrorism, which is a crime better addressed with intelligence and police capabilities,
o fabricated, non-existent threats from Iran and North Korea,
o a fabricated potential threat from China and Russia, whose military budgets are about one-tenth of the US’s, and
o vague goals of promoting freedom, justice, and human dignity.
In the meantime the US has invaded and occupied two countries in Asia (Iraq and Afghanistan) and is deeply involved in at least one African country (Somalia), which are costing hundreds of billions of dollars.
What US military forces are necessary to counter the identified military threats? Well, since no real military threats have been identified, one might say that the US doesn’t need a standing military.
Nevertheless, the “defense” budget has a life of its own.
The 2009 $491 billion Pentagon budget allocated about $179 billion to maintain the 2.2 million-member armed forces and increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps. The 2010 budget will be about $533.7 billion.
The Army is undergoing the largest transformational change since 1942. The active-duty Army end-strength is scheduled to reach 547,000 by 2011, as the Army’s fighting force will grow to 48 brigade combat teams from 33 in 2003. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the existing troop expansion will cost $101.3 billion over seven years. That equates to $1,101,086 per additional active-duty recruit. There is a similar expansion in the Marines and National Guard.
The Air Force, without a military threat anywhere, still has significant capabilities, which they describe best:
* Global Attack: Because of technological advances, the Air Force can attack anywhere, anytime — and do so quickly and with greater precision than ever before,
* Precision Engagement: The essence lies in the ability to apply selective force against specific targets because the nature and variety of future contingencies demand both precise and reliable use of military power with minimal risk and collateral damage,
* Agile Combat Support: Deployment and sustainment are keys to successful operations and cannot be separated. Agile combat support applies to all forces, from those permanently based to contingency buildups to expeditionary forces.
The Air Force is currently (figuratively) shaking in their flight boots over the investments in unmanned aerial vehisles, which are getting larger and more capable, and which will be able to fly oceans and fire missiles at any target anywhere in the world.
The Navy is in search of a maritime strategy. Its ten aircraft carrier groups, which are highly vulnerable to guided missiles, smart mines and quiet submarines, are sailing the world’s oceans as a sort of show of force which doesn’t seem to be impressing too many fellow world citizens. The new push in the Navy is for “littoral” ships that would be able to support combat activities near hostile shores, requiring the creation of hostile shores of course.
Lacking military threats, and recognizing that the current military occupations of Asian countries is a huge mistake, why is the Pentagon budget so large, and growing? Why a military?
o The huge five hundred billion dollar annual honey pot attracts all sorts of eager contractors, lobbyists and think-tankers eager to share in the risk-free profits.
o The same honey pot attracts congress-critters that are interested in maintaining the huge dollar flows into their districts, and the campaign contributions and perks from government contractors aren’t bad either.
The Founding Fathers envisioned a peaceful country without foreign involvement or even a standing army, so the Constitution states that appropriations for the army can’t exceed two years (Article I, Section 8). Alas, our Constitution has been ineffective in curbing the war racket.
Essays published in New York under the name of ‘Brutus‘ over two hundred years ago are instructive:
It might be here shown, that the power of the federal legislative, to raise and support armies at pleasure, as well in peace as in war, and their controul over the militia, tend, not only to a consolidation of the government, but the destruction of liberty.
In despotic governments, as well as in all the monarchies of Europe, standing armies are kept up to execute the commands of the prince or the magistrate, and are employed for this purpose when occasion requires: But they have always proved the destruction of liberty, and [as] abhorrent to the spirit of a free republic.
And of course we must quote Smedley Butler:
“I believe in adequate defense at the coastline and nothing else. If a nation comes over here to fight, then we’ll fight. The trouble with America is that when the dollar only earns 6 percent over here, then it gets restless and goes overseas to get 100 percent. Then the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.”
Don Bacon is a retired army officer who founded the Smedley Butler Society several years ago because, as General Butler said, war is a racket. Other articles by Don Bacon may be found here and here.