Delusions of Preparedness

The current push to trim the defense budget is foolish on two counts. First, the huge deficits projected for the federal government arise mainly from commitments to continue and expand three major entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (Obamacare represents an expansion of all three). Second, the defense budget should be geared to external threats, not to the federal government’s fiscal problems. Cutting the defense budget to fund profligate spending on “social services” is like preparing for a street brawl by spending money on a new suit instead of brass knuckles.

There is, nevertheless, a tendency in political-punditry circles to bemoan the amounts spent on defense. Anti-defense zealots get it into their heads that the government spends “too much” on defense — period. What they mean, of course, is that the government spends money to execute wars of which they disapprove, and to prepare for wars that they would rather not think about. There is also the fear — now that the looming bankruptcy of entitlement programs cannot be denied — that money will be taken from “social services” rather than defense.

On that score, it is well to remember the words of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir John Slessor:

It is customary in democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of the social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service that a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free.

Rather than take money from defense, our “leaders” should be thinking about how to spend more on defense. Nothing is more inviting to an aggressor than his intended victim’s lack of preparedness.

A common mistake, even among students of war, is to assume that there will be time to mobilize American’s economic engine, as in World War II. But that was before the advent of nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, and the ability of terrorists and cyber-warriors to create economic and military chaos. I submit that America’s strength vis-a-vis its actual and potential enemies now requires the following:

1. secured/hardened/redundant telecommunications (including internet), transportation, and energy networks

2. effective strategic and tactical intelligence (necessarily more intrusive than desired by civil-liberties purists)

3. quick response (at home and abroad) to tactical intelligence via special operations units (including some that can respond in kind to cyber-attacks)

4. a large “standing army,” with a broad range of strategic and conventional forces that are fully manned and trained, well-maintained and supplied, and technologically advanced — to deter and, as necessary, fight hostile regimes that pose threats to Americans and their overseas interests.

It is my sense that our current and planned defenses do not measure up to those requirements. The talk of cutting the defense budget should be scuttled, as should the “social services” that are the real cause of the government’s fiscal problems.