The United States is headed for trouble, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, in his recent article “War, hot or cold?” The crux of the issue: the U.S. is balancing military spending for two non-complementary styles of war. On the one hand, the U.S. is developing its intelligence and armed forces to fight a “hot war” against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State; on the other, the U.S. is developing costly weapons programs to ensure superiority in a Cold-War-style standoff with Russia and China. As Pincus is concerned, funding both styles may not be practical or affordable, meaning “Americans have some tough choices ahead.”
“These days, terrorists are the first threat,” says Pincus, “and not a single one will be deterred by a nuclear warhead.” We couldn’t agree more—in fact, nuclear materials in the hands of terrorists are the first threat. Pincus goes further, and agrees with the Center’s analysis that: “It seems wasteful to spend that kind of money re-creating a vast nuclear force that has never been used, on a scale that was likely never needed.”
Both the “hot” and the “cold” strategies are considerably expensive. In fiscal year 2014 alone, the military consumed $526.8 billion in discretionary base spending and an additional $80 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations account, originally designed to accommodate the fluctuating budget needs of U.S. engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it’s used more often as a slush fund, with Pentagon requests including the outlandishly expensive and malfunction-plagued F-35 fighter program, which will cost $1.5 trillion over the program’s life cycle and on average $178 million to produce each plane. And don’t forget the nuclear modernization plan that could cost $1 trillion dollars over the next 3 decades.
One strategy alone makes for a tight budget; funding both “hot war” operations and “cold war” posturing in the long term is not only unsustainable—it’s unnecessary. We don’t need to maintain a trillion dollar plan for nuclear weapons in order to deter Russia or China. In fact, the spending level and prioritization play right into their hands.
To read Pincus’s full article, click here.