Tuesday, November 23, 2010

In Defense of Defense

Of course it is salutary to review carefully all Pentagon expenditures, and to make sure we are not purchasing assets or fielding forces that we do not need, or that are not in line with our strategic goals and responsibilities. But we should also remember that near the end of the Cold War, in 1988, income taxes were lower (28 percent on top brackets), budget deficits were smaller (3 percent of GDP), and defense expenditures were proportionally greater (5.8 percent of GDP) than they are now — reminding us that the present budget meltdown reflects particular policies and priorities that transcend both tax rates and defense spending.

In the end, the problem of national security in a time of budget restraint is not so much about defense spending per se; instead, it lies in two other areas. First, we must establish our global responsibilities in the context of our fiscal limitations, and fund our military to fulfill the ensuing obligations. At present, defense spending is increasingly not synchronized with a clear and understandable strategic mission. Second, we must grow the economy. Our defense capability improved radically in the last 30 years without a great leap in expenditures as a percentage of GDP, simply because GDP grew at such a rapid clip. But unless we continue to expand the pie, there will be fights over the size of the slices. A healthy economy is the best national-security measure of all.