General Question

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Why does the USA need a defense budget so large?

Asked by Hawaii_Jake (25531 points ) August 26th, 2012

I’ve seen many graphs and much information regarding defense spending by the USA. Here’s one place for information. Spending over $700 billion annually, it states that the USA accounts for 41% of defense spending for the planet. In second place, China accounts for a very distant 8%, spending only just over $140 billion.

Do Americans really need to spend so much? Really?

Please note, this is a General Section question. Answers and debate should relate to the question and the details.

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30 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Some are arguing we spend too much on defense, that it is not being spent effectively. We spend a lot on defense partly so people won’t f#%k with us. Bomb us and we will blow up your whole country and people who do survive possibly might have radiation poisoning at some level if we drop a nuclear bomb again.

Part of the reason also must be good ol’ boy contracts and sweetheart deals for the manufacturing of bombs, uniforms, tanks, etc.

Judi's avatar

It is just a sacred cow. Anyone who suggests that they could save money by being more efficient is “soft on defense.”
There is to much playing of politics to get anything done better.
Defense contractors also do most of their work in the districts of key politicians to make sure their projects benefit the politicians, wheather the projects benefit the country or not.

RareDenver's avatar

It is worth noting that $1 goes a lot further in some countries than it does in the USA and that as a percentage of GDP the Saudi’s are way out front in military spending.

Saudi Arabia – 8.7%
USA – 4.7%
Russia – 3.9%
Source
It would be interesting to see where North Korea fit here

Blackberry's avatar

It’s about staying on top. They’re over doing it because we’re all supposed to be afraid of another country trying to take us over.

We’re already at such a high status that we can afford to lighten defense, but that is seen as a sign of weakeness to some conservatives because we always have to be the guy with the huge house and and all the guns on the top of the hill, even if this means sacrificing the well being of your own citizens. Case in point: NSC 86.

cheebdragon's avatar

…..Government officials retirement fund….?

Nullo's avatar

Our edge is our technology, whereas China relies primarily on numbers.

dabbler's avatar

Corporate Profit must increase. The great Republican President Eisenhower foretold it well that the military-industrial will take increasingly large amounts of our wealth as much and as long as we let them. They have successfully enlisted many of our public representatives through campaign contributions and support for rhetoric about the need to police the world, spread “freedom” (usually in the form of bullets and larger armament), and the need for a ‘drug war’.

noraasnave's avatar

I know that in the Marine Corps we learn to do more with less money as a general rule. There has been a slight change in the recent wars, with the chief concern of keeping us safe from IEDs both on foot and in vehicles.

I know that we have ships full of equipment (vehicles, radios, etc.) staged floating around the world in case a county goes into chaos so American civilians can be evacuated.

Primarily, we let the bigger services research the newest technology, then we wait 5 -7 years to get it ‘handed down’ to us.

Incidentally, every 10–15 years or so, our equipment is deemed antiquated and we receive staged deliveries and training to acquaint us with the new gear.

Keeping our military on the cutting edge of technology is the most expensive part. Imagine, buying a computer, if you want to newest computer you are going to pay10–25% more than the year old variety, even though the options are only a bit better.

The good news and the savings I know about is that many services repair their own equipment, only paying for repair parts. The capability to repair our circuit cards have saved billions of dollar annually. I know this because I get to look at the reports.

ragingloli's avatar

@noraasnave
“Our edge is our technology, whereas China relies primarily on numbers.”
Nazi Germany had the same strategy against the Soviet Union.
Did not work.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Probably not. We have a lot of responsibilities around the world, and presumably here in the US, but I am convinced that there are a lot of pentagon programs that exist because they always have existed, and that there is no particular reason to keep them going.

I’m also thoroughly convinced that there are far too many middle-manager ranks (lower level generals) that are being kept on because they don’t have commercial or other skills.

Now, I can’t place a percentage or a detailed estimate on numbers of people in this category, but I am sure significant money can be saved.

PhiNotPi's avatar

In the context of the second world war, @ragingloli is correct. The only way that Russia was able to win was because they were willing to pretty much sacrifice millions of lives. They had horrendous casualty rates, but they had a large enough population that it didn’t matter.

In the modern age, however, I’m not sure if population matters as much. WWIII will probably not involve the physical invasion of land with person-to-person combat. It is more likely to involve countries shooting missiles at each other. It would also involve cyber-warfare, with countries taking down other countries’ power grids and electronic systems.

The next world war, should it ever happen, will be a war of technology.

ragingloli's avatar

@PhiNotPi
The problem is that China in particular is rearming its military. They now have their own aircraft carriers, they are making their own stealth fighter and they are masters of cyber warfare as well. The technological edge that the Colonies believe they have is not as great as they like it to be, and added to that, they have their massive numerical superiority.
It would not be the first time that the Colonies commit a massive blunder by relying solely on their superior tech, ignoring any sort of tactics outlined in the Art of War. The Vietnam war was a massive desaster in that regard.

ucme's avatar

Xenophobic paranoia?

Lightlyseared's avatar

To keep voters in jobs.

PhiNotPi's avatar

@ragingloli Please don’t refer to the United States as the “Colonies”. It makes it sound like you place yourself as somehow being more “developed” or “civilized” than me.

Linda_Owl's avatar

The simple answer is that we do not need to spend so many tax dollars on the military. But conservative right-wing politicians insist that we do. And this fact is not lost on the military/industrial complex who funds the re-election campaigns of these politicians. The military budget could be reduced quite a bit before it would have any real impact on the ability of the military & maybe then some of our tax dollars could be spent on rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure.

flutherother's avatar

The massive defence budget, which is the size of the next 15 countries budgets combined and most of them are allies of the US anyway, couldn’t be justified if the USA only wanted peace. It is naturally a safe country with oceans on two sides, Canada on another and Mexico to the south, not much of a threat there. The USA wants to make sure its ‘strategic interests’ around the world are safeguarded. This means ensuring supplies of essential raw materials are maintained and that is a major reason why the ‘defence’ budget is as big as it is.

Sunny2's avatar

President Eisenhower said, as he was leaving office, “Beware the military/industrial complex.” We didn’t heed his words. If our democracy fails, and I worry about that, the military /industrial complex will take over.

jerv's avatar

Note that part of that is because we pay our military fairly well compared to other nations (though not always enough to stay off of welfare), including free total healthcare and education benefits. And much of the rest of that money flows out to pay companies like McDonnell/Douglas or the company I work for, so it’s not like the money falls into a black hole; many people are only employed as a result of defense spending.

Note also that there is a lot of R&D in there as well, and research is not cheap, especially not cutting-edge stuff like advanced robotics, material sciences, or aeronautics.

Lastly, the second and third largest portions of that defense budget are interest on defense-related debt from past wars, and Veterans benefits respectively. Think about that for a moment.

Ron_C's avatar

Good question! It seems that the conservative element can only keep power fighting an enemy. Previously it was the Soviet Union, when it turned out to be a paper tiger, they quickly turned to Middle Eastern states, completely ignoring the fact that the majority of 9–11 hackers were from Saudi Arabia.

Bush and company created the real menace of radical Islamist murderers, if it wasn’t that it would have been something else. Fascist governments need outside enemies because its citizens forget their oppression and focus on the enemy. Most of the military budget depends on this conjurer’s trick.

ninja_man's avatar

It doesn’t really need it, in my opinion. The hawks (on both sides of the aisle) will tell you that it has to do with strategic preparedness. The reality is that most of that money ends up back in the economy, and if you pulled the plug tomorrow we’d likely be looking at some rather grim consequences economically speaking the day after.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t better ways that vast sum could be spent. Rather, it means we are stuck in a vicious cycle, on which might only be broken by incrementally scaling back and reinvestment of the freed funds in infrastructure and tax-breaks.

Ron_C's avatar

@ninja_man you are correct that there are better ways to spend the money. I would like to see an incremental decrease in the “defense” budget with a corresponding increase of infrastructure spending.

josie's avatar

To protect overseas markets to keep the economy growing.
To preserve access to overseas oil fields to keep the economy growing.
To prop up the economy via defense industry spending.
To thwart potential enemies of the West from gaining a geopolitical “bridgehead” in areas that are essential to promote and continue economic growth.

That is why, whether you think it is a good reason or not.

One thing I took away from my experience in the service is that the US is perfectly capable of “defending” itself without sending men and equipment all over the world. If you merely want to “defend” yourself, position people like me (in my past life) on the borders and coasts, and have a few nukes available in case of a really BIG problem.
So it is really not Defense spending that we are talking about. It is geopolitical influence spending.

flutherother's avatar

@josie What happened to diplomacy?

Nullo's avatar

@flutherother We still have diplomats, but the big stick makes for an excellent lever – or perhaps the fulcrum?- with which to move the world.

jerv's avatar

@flutherother There are different types of diplomacy but you cannot do “carrot and stick” diplomacy without a stick, preferably a big one.

josie's avatar

@flutherother See above. Diplomacy is always a good thing. Unless it doesn’t work. Then you need something else. Otherwise, you will not be sitting at the table, you will be served as dinner at the table.

flutherother's avatar

You are all such cynics.

Nullo's avatar

@flutherother If it makes you feel any better, I’m actually a cynical optimist. But we are all students of human nature, and our subject, when dealt with honestly, leaves us with precious few conclusions to draw.

jerv's avatar

Cynics? Maybe. But realism beats blind optimism, and cynicism does not preclude optimism. A good cynic merely sees more of the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving the ideal and plans accordingly.

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