Teddy Would be Proud

The title refers to the 26th President of the United States. You know the guy with the line about the big stick.

I was thinking about this while reading a report on the Jane’s Defence server. It seems that the US defense budget was 46% of global military spending in 2003. It’s is expected to equal the rest of the world’s combined expenditure in 2006.

I wonder about these totals. The numbers from this page from 2003 indicate that the US defense budget was 49% of the global total even back then. This page at GlobalSecurity.org pretty much agrees with that, even though some of the figures are different. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out that we’ve passed the halfway mark already.

There are a few observations that I can make about all of this. One is that all of this money that America is spending isn’t directly tied into present military capability. The US leads the world in R&D spending, including military technology. (The US accounted for 89% of all R&D dollars in 2003. It may have changed since then.) A significant amount of this cash is going towards projects to ensure that a future belligerent will have little chance to destroy the US, even if the present rosy economic climate dissolves in the future.

Don’t agree? We’ve already seen some evidence of the technology gap. Unless something drastic happens to change this state of affairs, and unless it happens very soon, this disparity in ability is only going to get even more obvious.

Another thing that springs to mind is that the Socialist welfare programs that our European friends find so worthwhile must be even more damaging than I thought. For decades the countries that are now trying to unite under the European Union banner have slashed defense budgets to the bone in order to bribe their voters, but they still can’t match the US in either prosperity or growth. Considering that one of the major reasons for their ever-shrinking international influence is their inability to exert control over catastrophic and unforeseen events, I would have hoped that they could at least say that they managed to buy something meaningful by mortgaging their place in future history.

It’s important to put all of this in the proper perspective. Most of the recent increases in US military spending are directly linked to the War on Terror. Specifically the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Projecting power is expensive, there’s no denying that. It’s just that the rest of the world has taken a look at the figures and decided that it would be more cost effective to only buy what you need to defend your own borders. The US has run the same numbers and decided that it would be too costly to leave it to someone else.

8 thoughts on “Teddy Would be Proud”

  1. I think a large chunk of the money that people complain about us spending in Iraq ends up going towards future capability and making our military functional after many years of neglect.

  2. This is one of the great and sad ironies of the Media/Political ‘truths’ of the 90’s. The so-called ‘Peace Dividend’ was the most oversold notion since snake-oil. They decide to shink the military, and a decade later complain about base closures and the military being under strength. Did those idiots think the DoD took the money out and burned it? If you don’t buy it, you won’t get it. If you DO buy it, you STILL might not get it.

  3. An alternative interpretation:

    You write that we should “put all of this in the proper perspective. Most of the recent increases in US military spending are directly linked to the War on Terror.” This is true for the last 3 years, but the proper perspective is centuries, not years.

    From the 16th century to the 20th the Europeans projected force globally for the first time in world history. The empires on which the sun never set were, if not profitable, at least expressions of the energy of a confident, expanding culture. At the end of the 18th century the Europeans lost the bulk of their American empires, learning lessons they applied as they continued to expand in Asia, Australia and Africa.

    In the mid-19th century, the United States inflicted upon itself the first industrial war. Vast portions of the American South were over-run and its culture was subject to the ignominious defeat of Unconditional Surrender, at least in myth if not in fact. It took over a century for the South to recover from this defeat and become reintegrated with the balance of its nation.

    At the dawn of the 20th century, the United States defeated Spain and obtained most of its remaining empire. As a result of the following three World Wars of the 20th century each of the remaining European empires was dissolved. In each instance, the result of the judicious application of economic and military force by the United States. Each of the European metropolitan centers was devastated if not over-run and conquered.

    The military and cultural defeats Europe suffered were vastly greater than those of the American South. The ideologies upon which the Europeans based their cultures were shown to be empty vessels. The Americans achieved their goal of dismantling the European empires. American economic and military forces were also instrumental in the physical conquest and ocupation of several European states. It should not come as a surprise or disappointment to us that the Europeans no longer have a taste for projecting power or supporting the American projection of power. Nor that their recovery will take at least as long as that of the South. They are no longer a confident, expanding culture.

    When the Bush administration came to power it foresaw its primary challenge arising from the last undefeated historic imperial power, China. Having now contained the Islamic nuisance challenge, it is again assembling a coalition of regional powers to constrain and ultimately dissemble the Chinese empire.

    While Europe talks about projecting power through the EU, it has all the credibility of advice to save your Confederate money. Europe is recovering from a century of devastation greater than the Thirty Years War and the Plague. And this recovery, if it is to be successfully completed, will take several more generations. But first Europe must repulse a migratory invasion that threatens it every way except militarily. To expect Europe to be developing forces capable of projecting force around the world when its ability to defend itself is questionable is naive and a misreading of history that is likely to have serious deleterious consequences for American national interest.

  4. Is ours going up especially, or are the other nations, many of whom are and have been for years defensively freeloading off US capability (Canada, France, Germany, etc.) going down?

  5. I would caution that dollars are not a good indicator of actual military strength.

    The US military is and has always been unusually capital intensive. We have relied more on costly technology and paid soldiers better for nearly the whole of our history even when compared to Europe in its heyday. American military doctrine has always chosen to expend material resources as represented by capital instead of lives.

    Spending a huge amount of money on defense doesn’t automatically translate to projectable force. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that we spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for each Iraqi Fascist killed. Enemies willing to expend human lives, both those of their own forces and civilians, can do a great deal of damage very cheaply.

  6. Enemies willing to expend human lives, both those of their own forces and civilians, can do a great deal of damage very cheaply.

    But can they win wars? The North Vietnamese prevailed in their conflict with the U. S. but only because the U. S. constrained itself and gave up. If the U. S. has the will to win, its capital intense forces will prevail. Look at the track record for the last 140 years and U. S. forces are unsurpassed in success on the field of battle.

  7. Richard Heddleson,

    It is pointless to ask whether the US could win any war based on raw firepower because the answer is always “yes.”

    Once you have enough firepower to literally sterilize the entire planet then wars are no longer won or lost by firepower alone. Every war short of a an empty the silos full bore nuke exchange will be won or lost based on the level of firepower the American people will politically support using. Unlike previous eras, the limit is not military power but our own willingness to kill.

    What we have seen in the post-WWII era and especially since the end of the Cold War is ruthless minorities effectively using the rest of the areas population as human shields forcing us to kill an unacceptably high number of innocent bystanders to get the bad guys.

    Unfortunately, a large segment of the electorate of the developed world and America in particular has shown itself very willing to reward the ruthless murder of non-Combantents by granting those who employ such tactics a victory by forcing the withdrawal of American forces. It worked in Indochina, Lebanon, Somalia and other lesser locations. Now they are trying it again in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The key to victory in the contemporary world is not firepower, it is getting the bodies of dead children shown on TV. Victory is purely a matter of public relations.

    The disparity in cost is enormous. It cost the US millions to pay for technology and training that lets us fight without leveling entire cities, yet it cost only a couple of hundred dollars to make a bomb that can murder dozens of civilians. One terrorist with$10,000 in cash in Iraq has as much impact on the course of the war as a military units representing tens of millions of dollars in equipment, personnel and training.

  8. The American people were willing to support the Iraq war as recently as November 2004 and would again today, I suspect. A large segment of the American electorate has always been against war, and that is why it takes us so long to get into them.

    We have been successful in Iraq and Afghanistan because we have not produced a large and unacceptable number of civilian casualties. That is part of where our capital intensity has paid off. And that is why the money being spent by us developing more accurate weapons that require less firepower is a good investment. No other force could have achieved what we did the way we did it. That is why the dollars we have spent are a good indicator of our actual military strength. It is constantly decreasing the amount of firepower needed to achieve a military goal.

    An additional area of investment is training. Our troops no longer lay down walls of fire on full automatic. Three shot aimed bursts is the standard now. This also contributes to victory on TV.

    What worked in Indochina, Lebannon and Somalia has not worked in Afghanistan, GWI or GWII. In fact, it can easily be argued that Colin Powell erred by calling off GWI early because of fear of unrealized adverse public reaction to the Highway of Death photos. The American people are wiling to accept casualties, if they believe in the cause they are fighting for.

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