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March 6, 2014

In Our Opinion: It's time to trim U.S. military budget

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The Daily Star

---- — Given the current unpleasantness in the Ukraine, it might seem counterintuitive for the United States to consider cutting back on its military spending.

But, if anything, America’s limited options when it comes to responding to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s incursion into Crimea prove the point of those wanting to trim the Pentagon’s budget.

Those people, it should be noted, include Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The United States will have “a smaller and more capable force, putting a premium on rapidly deployable, self-sustaining platforms that can defeat more technologically advanced adversaries,” Hagel said Feb. 24.

Some Republicans have been criticizing President Barack Obama’s plans to trim military spending in the wake of the end of major U.S. involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. They insist that this is still a very dangerous world.

In that respect, they are correct. It is a very dangerous world, but bloated spending on more troops, more planes and more tanks isn’t going to make it any less dangerous.

If we had a million more troops, a million more tanks and a million more planes, we still would not be risking all-out war with Russia for what it is doing in the Ukraine. We would be seeking a diplomatic solution with threats of political and fiscal consequences.

Just like we are doing now.

The Pentagon, in its “Overseas Cost Summary,” says it spends about $22.1 billion each year around the world, but that didn’t count the $118 billion that is considered “off the books” in Afghanistan and other trouble spots. Outside estimates of overall military costs are as high as $2 trillion.

Given the country’s massive budget deficit, it is beyond unrealistic to fund a military on the old theme of being capable of fighting two major wars at the same time. Those who worry about the rising might of China or Russia or North Korea haven’t been paying attention.

The United States spends more on its military than the next 20 highest spending countries combined. It spends six or seven times what China spends on its military. 

Recently retired Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in 2009: “What all these potential adversaries — from terrorist cells to rogue nations to rising powers — have in common is that they have learned that it is unwise to confront the United States directly on conventional military terms.”

He noted that our Navy fleet is “larger than the next 13 navies combined — and 11 of those navies are U.S. allies or partners.”

Trimming the Pentagon budget will be hard on the many Americans who earn their living here and abroad on or near military bases. But painful as it may be, it makes enormous sense to do it now.