The Building Blocks of a Bloated Pentagon

The Air Force online magazine published an article in the October 2000 issue, which did a backward projection of military spending starting with President Jimmy Carter. Spending was shown in FY 2001 dollars. Seven of President Ronald Reagan’s eight military budgets totaled at least $390 billion and four exceeded $400 billion, with a high of $436.4 billion in FY 1985. None of the other three presidents, Jimmy Carter, George Herbert Walker Bush and Bill Clinton had military budgets in the $400 billion or higher range; furthermore, none of President Clinton’s charted budgets reached even $300 billion, based on FY 2001 dollars.

The decade of the 1990s saw some cutting back in military spending. Due to the demise of the Soviet Union, the 1990s also inspired a number of long-term projections of military spending. The defense analyst Randall Forsberg published two military spending models in 1992, designed to be phased in over 10 years. When fully phased in, one model totaled $79 billion and the other, $86 billion. Forsberg’s more costly model would have reduced the FY 2003 military budget by about 75 percent.

Forsberg’s $86 billion model called for a fairly robust military: 10 strategic submarines carrying 240 nuclear weapons; five active and three reserve Army divisions; eight tactical air wings, with three of them the U.S. Navy’s and over 130 ships and submarines.

The new century ushered in George W. Bush and a sizable uptick in the base Pentagon budget. The Congressional Budget Office calculated a 74 percent increase in the base Pentagon budget, or an average of 8.22 percent a year during President Bush’s two terms.

President Barack Obama has continued the annual increases in the Pentagon budget but has more than halved the annual increases under Bush II. As for the Pentagon’s future funding under President Obama, it  appears that the Pentagon will never need to hold a yard sale. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates could find only $78 billion in miscellaneous savings through 2015, and another $100 billion in reduced war costs and having military personnel pick up more of their medical costs.

President Obama’s 10-year projection for the base Pentagon budget, submitted with the FY 2012 budget, calls for accumulated military spending of $6.5 trillion.

When Obama rolled out his 12-year budgetry plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion, he counted only $400 billion in Pentagon savings. Projecting ahead by two years his $6.5 trillion in accumulated 10-year Pentagon spending, would add up to between $7.75 and $8 trillion. $400 billion would be a small percentage cut in that accumulated spending.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put global military spending at $1.6 trillion for 2010. U.S. military spending was put at $698 billion, or 43.6 percent of global military spending by a nation that has about five percent of the world’s population.

The Stockholm group considered only the base Pentagon budget and the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some defense spending analysts contend that a category called militarily-related spending is a more accurate indicator of spending on the military. These analysts would include the cost of the nuclear weapons complex, which is partly in the Department of Energy budget; part of the intelligence budget; that part of the State Department budget devoted to security at U.S. embassies and other security needs; part of the Homeland Security budget; and that part of the interest on the national debt which pays for unfunded past wars.

The annual cost of this militarily-related spending is put in a range of $800 billion to $1.2 trillion — the latter figure comes from the National Priorities Project. The magnitude of this militarily-related spending cost, pegged at $1.2 trillion for FY2012, is that if carried forward with an annual COL increase of three percent for the duration of Obama’s 12-year plan, would be a cumulative spending total of $17.5 trillion, of which Obama’s proposed $400 billion in military spending cuts would constitute a cut of about 2.3 percent.

Those commentators who focus almost exclusively on cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as the way to bring down the deficit, are ignoring the frightful long-term cost of militarily-related spending.


The Pentagon is following several major strategic pathways: 1) the last Quadrennial assessment elevated fighting an insurgency of violent extremists to the highest planning level; 2) the Pentagon is also engaged in surmounting the major technological challenges involved in creating the electronic, robotic battlefield of the future, once the apple of Donald Rumsfeld’s eye; and 3) the Pentagon is continuing to build the sophisticated weapons systems appropriate to fighting a major peer enemy, such as the Soviet Union once was.

There is a sense of deja vu for elevating fighting an insurgency to the top of the planning list, as about the time Barack Obama came into the presidency, a Defense Department directive put “IW” ( irregular warfare) on a level “as strategically important as traditional warfare,” arguing that for the “foreseeable future, winning the Long War against violent exrtremists will be the central objective of U.S. policy.”

The fact that we are following several major pathways in military planning is linked to the  concept of “full spectrum dominance,” whereby a joint military structure achieves control over all elements of the battlefield, using surface, sub-surface and air space-based assets. Full spectrum dominance includes the eletromagnetic spectrum and information space. Control implies that the freedom of an opposition force to exploit the battlefield will be wholly contained.

It is not difficult to reach the conclusion that total domination of the military sphere is a very costly matter. Given the lack of a peer military enemy; the oceans to the west and east of us; and militarily weak nations to the north and south of us, a much more modest strategic doctrine would save a vast amount of unnecessary military spending.


As a final component of this treatment of military spending, a major impediment to the achievement of a much leaner military structure is the belief among major political figures that military spending is a major job creator. When President Obama authorized a major Middle East arms sale, he said it would create 55,000 jobs. Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan warned in a campaign stop in Pennsylvania that if the current sequestation deal on military spending is allowed to stand, it will cost 44,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.

Economists who study the relationship of government sending to job creation are agreed that a billion dollars spent on such categories as education, health care or renewable energy, create far more jobs than a billion dollars spent on the military.

Why is military spending such a poor job creator? A large share of military spending is done overseas or spent on imported goods; also, more of the military dollar goes to capital, as opposed to labor. For example, only 1.5 percent of the price of each F-35 jet fighter for “manufacture, fabrication and assembly” goes to workers at the plane’s major production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

Another reason for the poor job creation performance of military spending is that military weapons have no social utility: a cruise missile is destroyed when it destroys its target; a tank doesn’t build anything, such as a construction crane does; and a very expensive jet fighter employs only a pilot and a small maintenance crew.

Overall, the Council of Economic Priorities has found that the more a country spends on the military as a part of the economy, the slower the rate of economic growth, the higher the rate of unemployment and the slower the productivity growth.


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