BENNETT: On Arms, Will Enough Ever Be Enough

We’re All In This Together

On Arms, Will Enough

Ever Be Enough?

Larry Bennett

The 2020 proposed U.S. military budget is $737 billion. When is enough, enough?

This is 37 percent of the $1.7 trillion military spending for all the world. It is more than the next 13 nations combined (numbers in billions): China ($224), Saudi Arabia ($70), India ($55), Germany ($49), UK ($49), Japan ($47), Russia ($44), France ($40), South Korea ($38), Brazil ($29), Italy ($29), Australia ($26) and Canada ($21). Only two of those nations are adversaries.

The $737 billion is but one part of the entire U.S. budget of $4.75 trillion – comprising discretionary spending, mandatory spending, and interest payments – but defense discretionary spending is 15 percent of the entire budget and half of all discretionary spending. There is an additional amount of mandatory VA and military benefits spending of some $200 billion. That’s almost $1 trillion, over 20 percent of the total budget.

Here’s what we have for our money:

• We have rough parity in deployed nuclear weapons: 2,200 for us and our allies, vs. 1,780 cumulative for Russia, China and North Korea. Few doubt ours are the most technically advanced and capable, though with nuclear weapons that seems a useless distinction. If only 5 percent of them were exploded, then the entire human race ¬– not just the combatants – would suffer horrible consequences.

• We have 13,000 U.S. aircraft vs. Russia and China’s combined 7,000. Other western and allied nations add 12,000 more to our side, so we have 25,000 vs. 7,000. Again, there is little doubt ours are the most capable.

• We have 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers, two more being built, and more planned. The Russians and Chinese each have one. Ours are supported by a massive fleet of offensive and other vessels. Russia’s fleet has heavily deteriorated since the demise of the USSR, and China’s fleet is a fledgling.

• We have 70+ submarines, all nuclear powered, classified as either ballistic missile, guided missile or attack submarines. Each of the 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile subs can deliver up to 192 nuclear warheads.

The firepower is unimaginable, and in fact half of all U.S. nuclear weapons are on
these 14 virtually undetectable submarines. No other submarine force is remotely as lethal as ours.

• We have the world’s third largest land force with 1.3 million active troops and another 865,000 in reserve. We also have a global presence unlike any other nation, with about 200,000 active troops deployed in more than 170 countries. China’s land forces are around 2 million, but again ours are advanced and capable. We fall behind in the number of tanks, having 6,200 while China has 13,000 and Russia 21,000. But many of those Russian and Chinese tanks are there to deter each other.

The U.S. competitively spent the USSR into economic collapse in the ‘80s. Russia no longer poses a substantial conventional threat to Western Europe and NATO. Its weak economy is highly dependent on resource extraction, not manufacturing.

In dealings with China, the U.S. has focused on economic competition, not military competition. We have a mixed record but it is advantageous to both nations to maintain peaceful competition and not sink into a cold war, let alone a hot war.

Then there is North Korea, which could be utterly destroyed by one Ohio-class submarine. Other threats include Iran, but it has huge internal struggles, no patron nation, and hard choices to make. Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria are quagmires we can’t fix, and they pose no direct threat to the U.S. Finally, those nations bordering Israel pose no unsurmountable threat to Israel, at least by conventional means.

It seems physical terrorism and cyber terrorism are the biggest existential threats to the U.S., yet we spend enormous resources elsewhere. Our trillion-dollar defense spending offers unassailable military security but skimps on other forms of security. That missing security can be realized by reallocating hundreds of military billions to expanded healthcare, to better education, to improved infrastructure, and to fighting climate change.

We already have enough weaponry to fight off the entire world. Enough is enough.

Larry Bennett, recently retired Brewery Ommegang creative director who is active in local causes, lives in East Merideth.

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