Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Defense-defenders are lying again: ground forces are not "stretched beyond their limits"

Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt have yet another whine-piece in The Weekly Standard today, telling us how they're just mad as hell about defense budget cuts and they're not going to take it anymore!
It’s time to say “enough” and to refuse not only sequestration but also a deal that avoids automatic reductions by substituting “just” a couple of hundred billion more in defense cuts. These are “savings” the nation cannot afford.
It's not clear to me just exactly how that would happen, considering, you know, the law and all. But more interesting is the loony explanation for why such cuts are unacceptable.
The fact is that the United States has been in an extended “defense drawdown” since the end of the Cold War, reaping substantial “peace dividends” throughout the Clinton years, during the Obama years, and now under the Budget Control Act.
Wonder what that ol' drawdown looks like in graphic form?

One hell of an "extended drawdown," huh? Maybe they were reading right-to-left
UPDATE: If you want to see it adjusted for inflation (as if we don't already know how that one looks, too), check out the first graphic in this pdf from CFR's Center for Geoeconomic Studies.

UPDATE 2: And here's another one adjusted for inflation (a little bit tougher to see because it's not appropriately time-limited and defense spending isn't the only thing on here, but pay attention to the green bit, specifically on the right half of the graph), direct from the one and only Wikipedia:

Maybe one more, prompted by Mike Few's comment, in case you wanted to see what defense spending looks like as a percentage of total government outlays (data from this pdf of FY11 historical budget tables):

Still not good enough? Ok, just for the unconvinced, I've created a new chart showing defense spending as a percentage of total outlays only from 1990 (just before the end of the Cold War) to the present, with a trend line in green:

Notice that the line isn't going downwards. Which is how it would look if we were in fact in an "extended defense drawdown since the end of the Cold War."

And how about this canard?
Consider the personnel strength of the Army and Marine Corps. Even with 771,400 soldiers and Marines on active duty, both services remain stretched well beyond their limits.
This is simply false. There is just no other way to put it. The Army and Marine Corps are not "stretched well beyond their limits." They're not even stretched to their limits, or really even very close to their limits. We've talked about this before; while the idea of going to a greater than 1:2 or even 1:1 BOG-to-dwell ratio may not be very attractive to anyone involved, that's what we're talking about when we use terms like "stretched to the limit."

When will the defense-defenders stop trying to BS the credulous?


  1. I am believe that defense cuts are necessary given the current economic climate. But your graph does not refute the Weekly Standards point.

    A graph in dollar terms with no allowances for inflation or percentage of GDP is meaningless. It may be that they are wrong even in real dollar terms (as opposed to nominal which is what your chart shows)or as a percentage of GDP. But you failed to prove that point.

    Your argument is like to saying that people are way better off economically today than they where 20 years ago because incomes are so much higher. This may be true in nominal terms, but it is very debatable in real terms.

  2. I've added in a link to the inflation-adjusted (constant 2008 dollars) graph, in case you imagined that would look significantly different.

  3. Gulliver, interesting data, and I'll start by admitting that I've no idea on what the military's budget should be. However, percent of GDP is the best way that I was taught to consider the spending. If we don't have enough money to meet our perceived needs/wants, then that is revenue issue not necessarily Defense's fault.

  4. Mike -- I'll agree that there are many different ways to look at how much is available, how much is "enough," etc etc. But I don't think share of GDP is a particularly meaningful measure simply because it has no correlation whatsoever to either the capabilities being financed or to the actual percentage of total government outlays that goes to defense. If we want to understand what's "affordable" in comparison with what we've deemed "affordable" in the past, then we should look at that latter figure: how much of total government spending goes to defense. (Right now it's just under 20%.)

    I'm not saying anything here about what is or isn't "Defense's fault" -- I'm just disputing the contention that the country has been in an "extended defense drawdown since the end of the Cold War," which pretty plainly isn't true.

  5. Gulliver, I'm not disagreeing with you- just trying to point you to the proper metric in order to bolster your argument.

  6. That's the thing, though -- I don't think it is the proper metric because it doesn't tell us anything useful. Who cares about GDP? Why not talk about total outlays (or even about defense spending as a proportion of overall government revenue)?

  7. Then, maybe, you're trying to get us to look at the problem from another angle instead of the typical way. Nothing wrong with that. Keep writing. I'm learning and enjoying it. It's almost as if you're trying to get us to ways, ends, means.

  8. DD cooking the books? Imagine that! What about the time they said PLA spending was $300BB:

  9. Mitt Romney calls for more defense spending. “My view is we cannot and should not shrink the scale of the United States Department of Defense budget.”

    Will Gulliver's head explode?

  10. Bogus. Today's DoD expenditures include non-defense related reconstruction funds that should be part of the DoS's budget, whereas nearly all of the pre-cold war defense spending was on actual coercive capability.

  11. Examining DOD spending over time starting with its highest point -- the Cold War is beginning with the wrong baseline data. Examine US defense spending compared to other countries, and the bloat is immediately evident. The US does not have to be a hegemon, and her citizens don't have to pay for hegemony.

  12. Anon @ 0051 -- Bogus. Today's DoD expenditures include non-defense related reconstruction funds that should be part of the DoS's budget, whereas nearly all of the pre-cold war defense spending was on actual coercive capability.

    Bollocks. It contains no such thing. "Non-defense related reconstruction funds" (presumably you're talking about Iraq and Afghanistan here) has been paid for in supplementals/OCO. We're just dealing with the base budget here.

  13. Perhaps we could begin by defining the mission. Perhaps that could begin by questioning the assumption that our borders - that which we'll defend with blood and treasure - in practice are defined as Korea to Kandahar. Perhaps if they were defined as Greenland to Hawaii, we'd need less money.

  14. bdoran -- Definition of borders would of course be a useful and concrete place to start, but it's just one specific example of what is really a broader requirement: to define objectives in a meaningful way, which is to say to formulate strategy.

  15. Also, to a doctrinal mind, your choice of the word "mission" is an important one: as those close to the military will know, a mission is a task plus a purpose. Purpose comes from strategy, and tasks come from operational art/planning.

  16. Actually I am former military, it's just a word I chose. I understand doctrinal terms. How about we define the problem? Part of which is we don't have Grand or any Strategy. And if we do, we should really keep it a SECRET at least. Some people have referred to the "Long War" as needing a NSC 50 - Containment - cold war solution. Well it has SECRET all over it...

    Are you Doctrine Man ;-) ??