Why Are We Doing So Little To Counter China’s Military Buildup?

COMMENTARY Asia

Why Are We Doing So Little To Counter China’s Military Buildup?

Dec 11, 2023 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Wilson Beaver

Senior Policy Analyst, Allison Center for National Security

Wilson is a Senior Policy Analyst for defense budgeting at The Heritage Foundation.
Soldiers line up at the opening ceremony of the 2023 Military Sports Games in Baise, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on November 29, 2023. Costfoto / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

To confront this threat successfully, our military needs more warships, aircraft and munitions. Now.

Plenty of big-ticket items outside the defense budget could be cut and reallocated to real military capacity.

Today’s U.S. military is stretched thin across multiple theaters and forced to spend billions on politicized initiatives.

Our National Defense Strategy identifies China as the primary challenge to the United States. To confront this threat successfully, our military needs more warships, aircraft and munitions. Now.

But the Biden administration’s spending does not match its defense strategy. The president’s Emergency Supplemental Request made this clear by asking for $61.4 billion for Ukraine, but only $5.4 billion for the Indo-Pacific. In addition, the administration has made no attempt to cut spending elsewhere in the budget to help fund any part of the supplemental.

There are many ways money can be saved within the Department of Defense, from programs that could be cut altogether, to reforms that would make the department spend money more efficiently. Non-defense spending from within research and development, politicized spending on climate change and DEI, and wasteful bureaucratic bloat are all examples of Pentagon funding that needs to be re-allocated toward building actual military capacity.

While some of the money necessary to pay for the military systems we need to deter China be found within the Defense Department’s budget, there’s far more available elsewhere—in the wasteful spending that occurs across the federal budget.

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What should this money go toward? Virginia class submarines, for starters. These subs have been identified as one of the most important assets needed to deter China in the Western Pacific. But they don’t come cheap. In Fiscal Year 2023, they cost around $3.4 billion each. (The cost varies depending on additional systems installed. Moreover, the cost per unit goes down if more than one is purchased at a time).

The new Constellation class of guided missile frigates are also crucial to the mission in the Indo-Pacific. They cost around $ 1.1 billion each, depending on the same variables.

If Congress is serious about funding a military capable of deterring China, plenty of big-ticket items outside the defense budget could be cut and reallocated to real military capacity.

For fiscal year 2024, the Biden administration requested $3.9 billion for the Department of Homeland Security’s climate resilience programs, $10 billion in mandatory funding for a new First Generation Down Payment Assistance program to “help address racial and ethnic home ownership and wealth gaps,” $3 billion for the State Department’s Green Climate Fund and Clean Technology Fund within the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (climate change money for foreign countries), $3 billion in Environmental and Climate Justice Block Grants, etc. etc.

This administration’s Department of Homeland Security is paying $2.5 billion to house illegal immigrants, while spending only about $56 million to maintain family housing facilities for military service members. That money would be better spent on submarines or frigates.

Within the Defense Department budget itself, for fiscal year 2024 the Biden administration requested $5.1 billion to “mitigate climate risk.” Jamming this sort of non-defense, politicized spending into the defense budget is especially egregious. The department’s mission is to protect American national security interests, and these wasteful initiatives distract the military from carrying out its core mission.

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Clearly, the administration thinks some things are worth the money. They’ll willingly request $113 billion for Ukraine and many billions more to other countries all around the globe. They’ll spend billions more on DEI and climate-change initiatives, and they’ll reward politically aligned left-wing groups with generous grants paid for by taxpayer dollars.

If the administration can throw around this kind of money for these kinds of causes, why can’t it find the funds needed to assure America’s Navy and Air Force can counter the greatest military threat to our nation?

There’s plenty more the U.S. could and should be doing to build a military manifestly capable of safeguarding the security of American citizens. The issue is a lack of political will, seriously misguided priorities and an astounding mismanagement of resources.

Today’s U.S. military is stretched thin across multiple theaters and forced to spend billions on politicized initiatives that don’t enhance its ability to effectively wage war in the interests of the American people. Funding should flow from strategy, and strategy dictates that the United States focus its military spending on capabilities relevant to deterring China: warships, aircraft and munitions.

This piece originally appeared in MSN