The Cato Institute’s Chris Preble explains, “An unstable political situation in Russia—a country with still thousands of nuclear weapons—is not in America’s (or anyone else’s) interests.”
Chris further notes, “Policymakers should also seek to end the slush fund known as OCO funding. Funding for overseas military operations should be included in the DoD’s base discretionary budget.”
The 2011 bipartisan Budget Control Act (BCA) imposed caps on discretionary spending, and these caps have worked, to a degree: government spending has remained essentially flat since 2009, and spending as a share of GDP, according to figures compiled by Cato’s Dan Mitchell, experienced the biggest five-year drop since the end of World War II. Though some would lift the caps on the Pentagon’s budget going forward, the United States can maintain the finest military in the world without breaking the bank. The Congressional Budget Office projects that Pentagon spending under the BCA caps will average about $526 per year through 2021 (.pdf, Table 1-4, p. 13), and this figure omits funding for nuclear weapons spending in the Department of Energy; as well as the Departments of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, and overseas contingency operations (OCO). When one factors in those additional monies, total spending for national security in 2015 is likely to exceed $800 billion.
But while that much money can buy a lot, it can’t buy everything. Even the richest country in the world must make choices. So far, that hasn’t happened. The cost to implement the Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, according to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, is $115 billion above sequestration levels in 2016 alone. The National Defense Panel, tasked with scrutinizing the QDR, calls for even more spending, presuming that the strategic requirements cannot or should not be constrained by fiscal or political reality.
Instead, the spending caps should be maintained, and the U.S. military’s global posture should be adjusted accordingly. Restraint was a wise policy, even when the United States was flush with cash. It is imperative now, when the costs of maintaining global primacy are rising, and the American people’s will to sustain them are declining.
Policymakers should also seek to end the slush fund known as OCO funding. Funding for overseas military operations should be included in the DoD’s base discretionary budget. That was how it was done for most of the nation’s history, and it’s time to return to pre-9/11, pre-Afghanistan, pre-Iraq spending practices.