Global pressures outpace military funding
By Jeff Lukens
As the leader of the free world, the United States has a responsibility to lead. This has been our reality as a nation since the 1940s. As such, we need a well-funded military. Today, however, our military forces are desperately in need of recapitalization and modernization. We have been on a "procurement holiday" since the end of the Cold War, and catching up will be expensive.
During the 1980s, the active duty Army had 18 combat divisions. Since 1994, there have been only ten. In that same time, the number of tactical air wings in the Air Force has fallen from 37 to 20; and the Navy has been reduced from 600 ships to less than 300 today.
Our defense budget hit a postwar high of 14.2% of GDP in 1953 during the Korean War. At the height of Vietnam in 1968, it was 9.5%, and it was 6.8% in 1986 at the height of the Reagan buildup. In 2000, defense spending reached the lowest point on 3.0%. Today, seven years into the Global War on Terror, we are still spending a paltry 3.7% of GDP on defense.
Our procurement needs will, if anything, grow in the years ahead. For example, our primary air-supremacy jet, the F-15, is old, metal-fatigued, and coming apart. Stress cracks from age and overuse are causing them to crash. Many were built before the pilots flying them were even born. Now, one-third of all F-15s are either grounded or headed to the scrap yard.
The Air Force consists of roughly 6,000 aircraft, and is replacing approximately 60 piloted aircraft per year. You don't need to be a math wiz to figure out that it will take 100 years at that rate to modernize our air fleet.
The need for increased military funding, however, does not stop there. Long term, we may need to station 30 to 50 thousand troops in Iraq as we have done in Germany, Japan and Korea. Yes, we are going to be there a long time, and it is vitally necessary no matter what Democrats are saying. When a quarter of the world oil flows through the Persian Gulf, we need to be there to take care of business when things go haywire.
The entire world economy rests precariously on the flow of oil out of that region. That part of the world is already a hotbed for extremism, and Russia and China are meddling there too. Deploying troops overseas in large numbers is expensive, but it is vitally necessary we have a presence there. Moreover, we need a larger Army to ease the deployments of individual soldiers to manageable levels.
Iran in particular is a problem that no one wants to face, but hasn't gone away. Contrary to last year's National Intelligence Estimate, Iran did not stop its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Instead, they are working overtime to make a nuke, and when they have one their tone will noticeably change. Tehran will then be able to threaten its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may finally be able to carry out his promise to annihilate Israel.
With our commitments around the globe and the rising strength of would be adversaries, our Navy could soon be stretched beyond its capability as well. Trans-Pacific trade surpassed trans-Atlantic trade in the 1990s, and will continue to grow in the years ahead. US Naval strength is essential along key trade routes to keep world peace.
The Asian export powers - China, Japan and South Korea - all are among the top economies in the world. In each case, however, their dependence on energy and other raw material imports, and access to overseas markets for their exports, have grown beyond their military reach. The need for secure resources and market access drive them, and especially China, away from their natural inward focus toward a more proactive international involvement.
And, still, our military challenges keep coming. Russia may be slipping back to the bad old days of the USSR. Washington's challenge, in sum, is to transition our alliances and military capability to meet these ever-changing economic realities and military threats of the 21st Century. One thing for sure, current budget limitations severely restrict the Pentagon in meeting these needs.
The United States will be hard pressed to make up the lack of funding of its military since the end of the Cold War. With the growing pressure of entitlement spending on the federal budget in the years ahead, restoring military funding to adequate levels becomes an even greater challenge.
Naturally, our resources are limited and must be used wisely. Although our NATO allies would rather push responsibilities off on us, perhaps we should step back in places like Kosovo and other places in Europe. The Cold War is over and they can handle these places for themselves.
Korea is probably another place that needs a plan for a drawdown of ground troops as well. In recent years, Korean defense policy and capability has seen a significant shift with South Korean forces taking a larger role in defense of their peninsula.
Perhaps the current economic stimulus check we are receiving courtesy or the US Treasury should be spent for more ships, planes, and tanks -- and for more troops. At least then, our country would have something to show for it. But such is the lack of foresight in Washington. Seeking votes long ago replaced responsible governance for most politicians.
When we inadequately fund our military, we plant the seeds of future conflict. Strength begets peace just as weakness begets war by would-be aggressors. When the inevitable crisis comes, we may be forced to pay in blood and treasure many times over what we could have paid today with sufficient military funding.
Jeff Lukens writes engaging opinion columns from a fresh, conservative point of view. He is a Featured Writer for The New Media Journal and a Staff Writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets. He can be contacted at www.jefflukens.com