March 9, 1984

March 9, 1984 | Executive Memorandum on National Security and Defense

Five Myths of Defense Spending

(Archived document, may contain errors)

3/9/84 45


The Administration's proposed $505 billion defense budget for fiscal year 1985, wh ich increases real defense dutlaysby 13 percent, by all Accounts, will be in for very rough treatment by the congressional budg@ eteers. Senators Domenici and Ha 'tfield, f o r example, propose holding the defense budget to 5 percent -real growth (cutting almost $-22 billion) F while a group led by Paul Warnke, former SALT I-I negotiator, seeks a $28 billion cut.. the debate-over the defense budget, however, threatens to becom e shrouded in a haze of misperception. and-myth. Popular notions of recent t-rends-in defense spending and themilitary-balance are clearly at odds with reality. Debate over defense spending must 'separate myth from-re'ality. Myth #1: The U.S.-now has spent - enough to "catch up" to the Soviets, Fa-kir-n-gfurther increases-in the defense outlays unnecessary. .Fact: The U.S. has-not caught-up- Production rates for fiscal year (FY) 1984 1985 1974-1982 U.S. USSR U.S.. USSR U;S-. USSR tanks 720 1,920 720 2,300 6,' 4 oo 17,350 tactical aircraft 330 680 350 840 3,050 6,100 major warships 3 9 5 9 72 85 other armored vehicles 1,290 4,070 1,546 4,550 4,600 36,650 Added to preexisting Soviet advantages, the vast numerical disparity in -recent production rates is particular l y significant in light of the shrink- ing (or nonexistent) technological edge that the U.S. relied on to offset the Soviet advantage in numbers. Myth #2: The -"dramatic U.S. build-up" has corrected the adverse trends in the strategic nuclear balance.. Fac t : The strategic nuclear balance is, in many ways, marginally worse than when President Reagan took office. The 'number of U-.S,, land and sea based ballistic missiles and strategic bombers actually have declined since 1980 as older strategic weapons are r e tired faster than their re-..;' placements are brought on line. Nothing has been done to correct the ' most worrisome UiS@ strategic weakness--the vulnerability of land-based ICBMS. Myth #3: Huge defense spending increases 'are the-major source of the lar ge federal deficits..


Fact: The defense budget it smaller in terms of share of gross national product and percent of the federal budget than it haisbeen for most of the past three decades. -In the 1950s defense budgets averaged about 9 percent of GNP, in'the 1960s about 8 percent,'andin the 1970s about 6 percent. Under President Reagan, the defense budget-has averaged about 6percent of GNP. Bec .ause of dramatic increases: in domestic spending, the DoD share of federal outlays is only about half of wha t it was at its peak. It thus is intellectually ingenuous to blame the Pentagon's shrunken burden on the economy and federal budget for thehuge deficits. Myth #4: Congress has given President Reagan everything he's wanted in defense. Fact: Congress has cut massively the Reagan defense requests.

FY 1982 1983 1984 1985 Final Reagan request 226 257 .281 305 Final action 219 245 264 283* Final reduction 7 12 . 17 22* . (in billions of dollars; *-based on 5 percent real grovth)' Just a year ago the Administratio n proj.6cted a defense budget of $330 b-i-llibn for FY1985. With the -fur 'ther cuts from $305 billion-Congress is considering, the defense budget could, in just year, slash $30 billion from what the Administration had wanted. Myth #5: Billions of dollars can be cut from.the defense budget by eli-e-- E'nating waste and corruption. Fact: There is waste in the defense budget. Savings from eradicating waste and fraud, however, should be used to rebuild U.S-. military strength more efficiently and rapidly. Rec e nt Pentagon management improvement programs have been somewhat successful. As for remaining inefficiencies, Congress-itself must shoulder part of the blame@ The inefficiency of the budget process, multi-ye'ar procurement, and support of "por k barre '111 defense projects all contribute to defense budgets unre- sponsive to critical U-.S-. defense needs. Though these myths are demonstrably false, defense budget cutters constantly cite them. U@S. defense expenditures'should be keyed to the threat s- to the nation and to America's international commitments. They should not be-based on misguided efforts to reduce the deficit or to bring ".runaway" defense spending under control without reference to those threats and commitments.

Brian Green Policy Analyst

F or further information: "The Restoration of Defense Spending in 1984," National Security Record, January 1984. Anthony-H. Cordesman and Deborah M. Kyle, "The Real Defense Debate," Armed Forces Journal International, March 1984.


About the Author