Resolved: In order to better respond to international conflicts, the United States should significantly increase its military spending.
The Con position will argue against the call to significantly increase military spending. In fact, Con may be able to argue that military spending can be cut. Bear in mind, there is a lot of ground between significantly increase and cut all spending. Con can "slightly" increase spending, keep spending the same, slightly cut spending or slash it to the bone. In addition, Con is greatly helped when reporters like those at the Washington Post print articles about how the Pentagon has a penchant for massive bureaucratic waste to the tune of $125 billion . The news is writing your case for you. Moreover, the Con will be taking a serious look at the role of the United States in world affairs. For example, we have been shoring up European as well Far Eastern security since the end of Second World War. The nations under our umbrella of protection are fully-capable of defending themselves or at least able to bear a greater percentage of the cost to uphold their own security. Additionally, the nature of how conflicts are executed have changed significantly. Technology has greatly reduced the need for massive, invasions and hundreds of thousands of troops occupying ground. Satellites, drones, and smart, precision weapons are game changers. The days of the massive, lumbering, troop movements is replaced with small, precision and rapid-response interdiction teams striking targets and moving on. Actually, there should be no need to discuss the pro and cons of the effectiveness of rapid-response interdiction teams or drone warfare. These are simply justifications for reducing spending and there are other justifications. A major focus of the recent U.S. presidential campaigns has been the need to upgrade the infrastructure and this will cost billions of dollars. Airports and shipping ports need massive upgrades, highways and bridges need replaced, energy and communications systems need to be constructed. All of this work will help support growth and advancements in a wide range of endeavors, including better national defense. Should we mention schools? Many school systems are in terrible condition and our institutions of higher learning are too expensive and driving students deeply into debt. Perhaps some federal money can be applied to education resources. For sure, running the country is expensive and there is only so much revenue to go around. Do we really need to be the world's police force? Do we really need to stick our noses into every conflict which erupts between protagonists? Perhaps it is time to rethink our position and start to roll-back some of our imperialistic tendencies. Let us begin by resisting the call to significantly increase military spending.
One major contention for the argument to reduce military spending can be visualized as a pie-chart. The pie is a fixed size determined by government revenues most of which are collected by taxes. The cost of maintaining the government is enormous and by far one of the biggest slices is being handed over to the Defense Department for its many spending needs and we can argue about how much of that "slice" goes into wasteful endeavors.
Capital is finite, and capital going into one spending category means that there is less money for another. This fact gets more interesting when we consider that any government spending exceeding revenues results in a deficit that is added to the national debt. The ballooning national debt has an economic impact on everyone, and military spending is one of many contributing factors. As the national debt grows, the interest expense of the debt grows and the cost of borrowing subtly increases due to the risk that increased debt represents. In theory, the increased debt will also drag on economic growth and eventually a driver towards higher taxes.
The sizable chunk of the pie used for defense leaves little for other purposes, such as the much discussed need to increase infrastructure spending. When there is no more "pie" the government borrows which increases the federal deficit which also requires slice of the fiscal "pie" to pay-down on the debt. Something has to give since debt itself is a security risk.
The United States defense budget amounts to roughly $600 billion a year, just over half of all federal discretionary spending. Meanwhile, the U.S. national debt has ballooned to roughly $19 trillion. In fact, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen famously remarked that “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
To regain control of the federal budget and begin investing in much needed infrastructure, education, alternative energy, and technology needed to ensure future viability in an increasingly competitive world. The U.S. must finds to limit military spending without sacrificing our national defense. According to a report in CNSNews, Government workers outnumber manufacturing workers by nearly 2 to 1. All of those government jobs are supported by taxes. The defense budget supports a vast number of public sector employees. One way to reduce spending and actually increase private employment is to cut public sector jobs in the defense industry since job-draining taxation is needed to support the public sector. The theory, in true trickle-down fashion, is tax cuts create jobs.
Jobs are a big part of the economic impact of military spending. Of course there are the active troops, but there is also a considerable infrastructure built up around them that requires contractors, trades, consultants, and so on to support the military. Then there are the private businesses that spring up as a result of the military spending, including everything from weapons manufacturers to the restaurants that pop up near military bases. Here again, the free market economists point out that the public dollars going to support those jobs directly or indirectly are actually sucking the equivalent number of jobs—or more—out of the private economy due to the taxation needed to create them.
Cutting the Fat
A major contention for Con can center around the massive amount of waste and inefficiencies in the current defense budget. As I have already mentioned in the introductory remarks, it has recently been reported that $125 billion of bureaucratic waste was 'hidden" by the Pentagon. This kind of waste and cover-up is fraudulent, but there is so much more to the story that was not reported by the Washington Post.
U.S. military spending is out of control. The Defense Department budget for 2016 is $573 billion. President Barack Obama’s 2017 proposal ups it to $582 billion. By comparison, China spent around $145 billion and Russia around $40 billion in 2015. Moscow would have spent more, but the falling price of oil, sanctions and the ensuing economic crisis stayed its hand.
As Trump has pointed out many times, Washington can build and maintain an amazing military arsenal for a fraction of what it’s paying now. He’s also right about one of the causes of the bloated budget: expensive prestige weapons systems such as the Littoral Combat Ship and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The much-maligned F-35 will cost at least $1.5 trillion during the 55 years that its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, expects it to be flying. That number is up $500 billion from the original high estimate. But with a long list of problems plaguing the stealth fighter, that price will most likely grow.
“I hear stories,” Trump said in a speech before the New Hampshire primary, “like they’re ordering missiles they don’t want because of politics, because of special interests, because the company that makes the missiles is a contributor.”
America’s defense is crucial. But something is wrong when Washington is spending almost five times as much as its rivals and throwing away billions on untested weapon systems.
Given the horrifying picture of huge bureaucratic waste and cost overruns, there are solutions to managing cost while maintaining a strong defense posture.
Fortunately, there are ways to cut defense spending without hurting military capabilities. Besides maintaining its war-fighting capability, DoD, like any entity, maintains a back-office bureaucracy to oversee its business functions. That overhead accounts for roughly 40 percent of its budget. It’s hard to compare different industries, or even government agencies, but one examination of 25 industries showed average overhead rates ranging from 13 to 50 percent, with the average across all industries being 25 percent. A RAND study of overhead and administration costs among defense contractors found them to be “tremendous drivers” of weapon costs at 35 percent. The largest domestic programs—Social Security and Medicare—get by with costs in the single-digits.
Cutting Pentagon overhead to the average would save roughly $80 billion a year. Looked at another way, the department employs 800,000 civilians. Not only is that more than the population of four states, it’s not quite half of all civilian federal employees, more than twice as many as the next-largest agency (Veterans Affairs), four times the number of civilian employees at the Department of Homeland Security and basically the size of all the remaining federal agencies combined. Think there might be some savings possible there?
Moreover, a change in implementation of our defense strategy would allow the U.S. to cut military costs.
Posen outlines a more modest military force structure best suited to his vision of restraint. Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute argues that “If [the United States] were less actively engaged and forward deployed than we were today, [the U.S.] could rely much more heavily on Reserves and the National Guard to augment a small active duty army in the truly rare instances where [the U.S. would] need a large physical presence in a distant place.” According to Preble, returning more troops home would be a return to “that model which worked really well for this country for a really long time.”
Much of current U.S. defense posture and assumed need to maintain a strong military capability is based on age-old policies which require a kind of "keeping up with the Jones" mentality. Whenever a perceived enemy developed new military capability we had to match or exceed that capability. If they build more or better warplanes, we build better systems for detecting and shooting them down. The notion of an 'arms race" comes from this kind of continuous escalation of capabilities. However, the world of today is rife with economic hardships and that reality is altering the way nations are allocating funds for military purposes. Even our strongest rivals for international power are cutting back. For example Russia, which relies on oil sales for revenues has been hurt by low oil prices and economic sanctions arising from the invasion of Crimea and Ukraine.
The 2016 military spending in the country was expected to amount to 3.14 trillion rubles (over $41 billion at the current exchange rate) or 4 percent of GDP. A 5-percent cut amounts to some 160 billion rubles.
The Russian economy, highly dependent on energy exports, is experiencing a slowdown caused by a sharp decline in global oil prices and, to a lesser extent, by Western sanctions imposed on Moscow over its alleged role in the internal Ukrainian conflict — a claim the Kremlin has repeatedly denied. In 2015, Russian military budget were reduced by almost 4 percent.
And not only Russia is cutting. Even China, which annually increases its military spending by double-digit percentages, is experiencing a decline in its economy. For the first time in years, though they continue to spend more, the size of their increase has been significantly cut.
Spending at all levels of China's government is being curbed because of a drop in the economic growth rate, which fell to a 25-year low of 6.9 percent in 2015 and is expected to decline further this year. For most years since 2000, China posted double-digit increases in military spending, and this will be only the third time in that period with a single-digit increase, including 2010's increase of 7.5 percent.
The lower increase is a reflection of the "new normal" of more moderate economic growth that President Xi Jinping has been touting for the past two years, said Alexander Neill, a senior fellow for Asia-Pacific security for the International Institute for Strategic Studies based in Singapore.
When our major competitors for world dominance cut back, why do we need to significantly increase military spending? Already we spend more than both of our rivals and with them cutting back we can afford to maintain or reduce our current spending.
The New Reality
In reality, American power is in decline and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The new reality is there is a shift in the balance of power driven primarily by the U.S. loss of will to continue to present itself as the world's police force. We are war-weary and there is no need to be the big-brother protector for allies who have long since risen from the ashes of the Second World War.
Today the U.S. is effectively bankrupt, but continues to write security checks which it cannot cover. America accounts for almost half of the world’s military expenditures and provides defense guarantees to prosperous, populous allies throughout Asia and Europe. Moreover, U.S. forces wander the globe attempting to create democracy and stability ex nihilo. At the same time Washington props up unpopular dictatorships throughout the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. This strategy is unsustainable.
The U.S. should start acting as a true Great Power. Many events elsewhere interest and affect America, but not in any vital or important way. Rather than seeking to control everything and manipulate everyone overseas, Washington policymakers should calibrate response to importance, which in many cases would mean doing less or even nothing. Benign neglect often is the best foreign policy.
Perhaps it can be shocking for some debate judges to hear the U.S. wants to give some ground rather than continue to project power in every corner of the globe, continuously, but the fact of the matter is, most American's tend to accept this position.
No longer is there much appetite for America playing its long-standing role of global policeman, even in the face of the rise of the group calling itself Islamic State.
The cost, human and financial, is considered too great. Americans increasingly think that other countries should share the burden.
Obama, while continuing to trumpet "American exceptionalism", regularly prefaces remarks on foreign affairs by acknowledging the limits of US power, again with little public outcry.
The upshot is that the United States is no longer so keen to exert leadership in an increasingly messy world.
A decline in U.S. hegemony does not mean we are weak nor does it mean our nation is vulnerable. We still possess enormous reach and striking power. It simply means we are more willing to accept a realignment of power in which our allies now begin to take more responsibility for their own interests.
The role of U.S. allies was also discussed. Harvard University’s Stephen Walt argues that moving to a new grand strategy could be used to force “our allies to do much more of the heavy lifting in the areas in which they live and where their interests are much greater than ours.” Eugene Gholz of the University of Texas at Austin agreed, suggesting that “our current allies should be our friends not allies,” noting how expensive it is to provide for other countries’ defense.
Small Steps Approach
Finally, I would like to close this Con position with one more approach. As I said in the introductory remarks for the Con position it is possible to argue the U.S. can still increase spending and avoid walking on Pro ground. As long as the spending is "modest" a strong Con team may argue it is not "significantly" increasing spending. In order to advance that idea, I will leave you with the following quotation.
Some improvements to defense capabilities are needed in light of current and projected challenges. Yet, there are ways to make American defense posture and policy more efficient. Modest budgetary increases should be adequate in the years ahead. An annual U.S. defense budget of around $535 billion in base funding, plus another $25 billion or so for nuclear weapons-related activities in the Department of Energy, plus up to $40 billion or so in supplemental funds for wartime operations and related matters makes sense. The presidential candidates should spell out the defense spending level they would seek as well as a detailed specification of the ways the money would be spent.
I don't wish to take this argument much farther other than to show such evidence exists and suggest that an experienced team could subsume many Pro advantages and avoid many of the impacts of reduced spending advocated by the Pro. The debate will tend to center around the bright-line of what constitutes "significant" so I will leave it the clever debater to work through that contention.
For links to the Intro and Pro positions or for more information about Public Forum debate, click the Public Forum tab at the top of this page.
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