Critiques of America’s Military Budget Often Use Incorrect Comparisons

“If American military spending saves American lives and prevents war, then that is the literal price that I’m willing to pay.”

Republicans in the house passed a preliminary defense budget that has sparked another round of debates about the funding of the military; many arguments suggest America already spends too much. There is a popular infographic that shows how America supposedly spends more on its military than the next eight countries combined. But a new study from the Heritage Foundation shows that those comparisons are shallow and faulty. America spends more because of its high safety standards and benefits commensurate with a volunteer military; they have to maintain enough logistics to respond to a host of threats across the globe, and other countries deliberately cook the books and disguise their military spending.

Unlike Russia and China, America must entice its military away from other jobs in the private sector. As a result, each recruit gets pay and benefits that make the average soldier more expensive here than in Russia or China. The study reports that if China spent the same amount of money per soldier as America, the cost would consume almost its entire admitted defense budget.

Adversaries like Russia and China hide their real budgets, as I’ve previously discussed. China doesn’t report the cost to house and feed its soldiers, weapons acquisition, and its extensive nuclear development programs. The new report also suggests that China doesn’t report a significant part of their navy. China hides many of its war vessels as “maritime enforcement” ships in the Coast Guard and doesn’t count those ships as military spending.

Moreover, countries like China and Russia largely focus on one potential theater of combat, while the United States must effectively support its allies and deter aggressors across the world. Again, using China as an example, in a war with Taiwan, they have over 39 air bases within the range of unrefueled aircraft. The United States only has one. In the event of conflict, America would have to quickly move assets to the region.

The logistical ability to safely and efficiently project power is the final key. The United States has to spend additional money on refueling planes and for bases and ports across the world while still maintaining high safety standards and operational security. Modern day isolationists might argue these bases and allies are unnecessary, but they are commitments that America has made, and there is a strong argument that an active and involved America around the world leads to a more peaceful world.

It’s true that military spending often seems useless when America has so many problems with infrastructure, healthcare, schools, and crime. But John F. Kennedy once remarked that America is willing to bear any burden and pay any price in defending liberty. If American military spending saves American lives and prevents war, then that is the literal price that I’m willing to pay. At the very least, those discussing the budget of the armed services should do so using proper comparisons and not the manipulated budgets of their rivals.

Morgan Deane

Morgan Deane is a former U.S. Marine Corps infantry rifleman. Deane also served in the National Guard as an Intelligence Analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming book Decisive Battles in Chinese history, as well as Bleached Bones and Wicked Serpents: Ancient Warfare in the Book of Mormon.

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