Dwight Eisenhower, our 34th president, was by no means a saint – what politician is? – but he sure was insightful, especially on matters of the military (he was one of the first to raise concern about the military-industrial complex for example). Consider this quote, which has been making some rounds across the web:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.
Granted, a military force of some kind is definitely necessary for national security. But the amount of money that is poured into what are usually very opaque weapons projects is staggering, especially when you factor in the upkeep that is accrued over years and decades. A single aircraft carrier alone can costs billions upon initial purchase and much more in maintenance – and we have 11, with a few more to come.
Consider just one recent project: the Pentagon is planning on buying thousands of F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin for an eye-watering total of $353 billion. We’re far and above the rest of the world when it comes to technology, arms, and military spending, yet billions go into superfluous weapons who’s added edge is ultimately negligible.
I’m no military expert, but I don’t think you have to be to question the wisdom of spending this much money on something we’re superior in by a considerable margin. Our military expenditure is $700 billion, more than the next dozen countries – yes, including China – combined. Even if some of those nations are fudging the numbers, it’s doubtful they’re anywhere near our level, especially since our logistical and technical abilities far exceed what most other nations our spending their money on.
And while the US is the most egregious example, largely due to our wealth and sole superpower status, it’s hardly the only one. Estimates of the combined total of military spending for the world push past $1 trillion dollars, an unfathomable amount of money (though we roughly make up 70% of it). Many of the top spenders are hardly wealthy either, and it’s perverse to imagine sleek new weapons of destruction being paraded past crumbling buildings and starving citizens.
Any amount of spending should endure a cost-benefit analysis. Finances are always fungible: what is spent in one area is what isn’t spent in another. Is the cost of all these arms worth their benefits in national security (or, more often than not, deterrence)? Is the money lost to education, infrastructure, and other social programs worth the military advantage?
Such things may be difficult to measure and quantify, but given the increasingly unlikely prospect of an interstate conflict – indeed, most wars are fought against unconventional forces like guerrillas or terrorist groups, which are best dealt with through intelligence – it seems sensible that we can stand to begin shedding at least a few hundreds of our thousands of nukes, for example.
While our poverty rate pushes up, our infrastructure crumbles, and our education system remains dysfunctional, we’re cranking out shinny new weapons of war – something doesn’t seem right with that, especially given that a strong economy is the backbone of a strong military. Spending more on the latter certainly won’t sustain the former.