How big a military does the USA really need?

The proposed large increase to the military budget seems like a huge waste of money to me. There are much better things we could be spending that money on, and I think the majority of military spending ultimately does no good.
The USA is a member of NATO, and the NATO treaty requires member nations to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. For us, the goal would be $371 Billion, a significant decrease from what we are currently spending.
Congress is buying equipment for the military that they don’t even want, and refusing to close bases that even the Pentagon says are unnecessary.
How much do we actually need? Is the NATO minimum enough?

The short answer is the military-industrial complex and constituents.

Pretty much every defense contractor wants at the very least to keep doing business with the government, and pretty much no politician wants to lose his/her military bases for reasons of getting reelected.

It’s a form of welfare for business.

It depends on what we want our military to do. Do we want it to be able to go to Raqqa and kill ISIS? 2% probably doesn’t get us there. Do we want it to defend Taiwan? $371 billion probably isn’t enough.

If we just want it to protect CONUS from invasion, $371B is probably adequate.

The US strategy has been to field a force capable of waging 2 wars at the same time. NATO is primarily geared to the security of the US, Canada and Europe so if you assume the US should fight a pacific war as well then $600 isn’t unreasonable, but it raises the question as to why there’s no US led equivalent to NATO in the pacific.

SEATO is the Pacific equivalent, sort of.

It’s not as important for obvious geographic reasons.

Simple defense of the United States itself wouldn’t cost that much. The United States has no threat geographically adjacent to it in any practical sense. You could eliminate most of its standing army, reduce the size of the Air Force, and have less of a Navy, since there’s no longer a need to go prowling around oceans far from the USA. A nuclear deterrent would have to be maintained, of course.

The “being able to wage two simultaneous wars” is a relic of 'Eighties planning, and as we’ve seen from the simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the current budget isn’t nearly enough to support that without vast increases in funding. The question isn’t just as simple as asking the question, “How much?” but rather “What capabilities do we really need, and what is that going to cost?” As Johnny Ace points out, a not-insignificant chunk of discretionary military spending is pork barrel spending for favored Congressional districts, essentially corporate welfare. When Congress insists on giving the Air Force planes they don’t want and can’t use or a third missile site for a ballistic missile system that doesn’t and likely will never work reliably, Congress is shoveling tax revenue into the coffers of weapon contractors. And frankly even many of the weapons that work or are in development are designed to fight the wars of last century instead of anticipating future threats like protection of civil computing systems from cyberterrorism threats.

Practically speaking, the United States needs to maintain a large enough military to have a core of professional non-commissioned officers who actually do the majority of heavy lifting, and a corresponding body of officers who can handle the “leadership” and politics of managing the military bureaucracy, with much of the wartime force available in the form of reserves. The way the services are currently organized, there is a lot of top heavy management in the Air Force and Navy (everybody wants to be an officer), difficulty keeping senior NCOs and qualified officers in the Army, and a perennial concern about meeting staffing needs in the Marines and Coast Guard. (Yes, the Coast Guard is not in the Department of Defense during peacetime, but they fulfill an essential role in providing military defense of the US mainland and many territories including a crucial anti-terrorist role.) It should also be noted that the military has roles beyond warfare, including disaster relief, infrastructure maintenance, and science and research roles to anticipate future strategic hazards from resource depletion, global climate change, et cetera.

The extent to which we intervene in conflicts on foreign soil is dictated largely by the executive agenda and response to world events, but given how poorly that has worked out for us in the last fifteen years it would seem that we’d be better off being more cautious about putting boots on ground in a conventional sense, and moving more toward targeted special operations, which are expensive on a per capita basis but much cheaper and easier to “tactically redeploy” from than an indefinite occupation.


Anyone have any idea what ISIS total military budget is? A few billion dollars at most I would guess.

From Testimony of A\S for Terrorist Financing Daniel L. Glaser Before The House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and House Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities

No, Johnny Ace has is exactly right. The MIC is deeply woven into the fabric of the economy, so increasing military spending make things like the DJIA look really good. I know the city close to me (second largest in the state) would collapse if the DoD had to close the base next to it. When the left talk about cutting the Defense budget, they are way off base, because no one has a plan to make up for the huge holes it would create in many local economies.

And, well, that president guy is accustomed to being brash and irritating, so of course he wants to know that there will be a strong military to clean up for him.

Which is the beauty of asymmetrical warfare. A car bomb costs a lost less to build than a long-range precision-strike munition.

It’s a form of welfare for people. All those people employed as soldiers, sailors, etc. And it’s a long-term social project: those people have families.

It must have at least one carrier task force in each of the two major oceans, and have another two maybe in the Mediterranean area and the Indian Ocean. With just four, at least 3 must be deployed at sea at any given time, their locations kept completely secret, and one TF is ready to rush and augment a “buddy” with air power within 48 hours. That’s the minimum requirement to be able to project power around the world, or at least in the current hot spots.

If creating jobs is the goal, military spending is not the way to do it. Why not take the money that is saved by closing the base, and build an airport, or a hospital, or a university, or a laboratory? Or use the money on infrastructure projects?
A military base has a lot of employees, but so would any of the things I listed, plus those types of projects have additional benefits besides the jobs.

I’m not opposed to the idea of government welfare, government-created jobs. But whatever you spend a lot of money training people to do, you’re going to have an inclination to do. Our profligate military spending creates an incentive for military adventurism.

If we want to engage in social welfare, I’d far rather we train people to handle AutoCad than to handle rifles. Not everyone–we need some military–but a major transfer in where we put our government resources would be ducky.

It’s a hideously inefficient welfare project, the profits of which hit large shareholders disproportionately.

Far better, if we really wanted to treat it as welfare - which I disagree on - to have those people work on infrastructure and other economic multiplier projects that would encourage more and greater economic activity, therefore employing far more people in a far wider area.

Well, there are some nations who really do not like us and other groups, who if they could attain the means of a nuclear weapon would likely use it.

China is not a real friend, of the USA, and Putin and the Russians are spreading their yoke in Eastern Europe.

Iran who funds terrorism and openly says they are for the destruction of Israel and chants death to America is close to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The USA is falling behind in space as well, but that can change soon.

Designed to fight two wars at the same time if necessary, the USA military is not ready if forced to do so.

If the design was one war at a time, we would be fine.

Depends…what’s the mission? Currently the mission is to be able to support NATO and project force in Europe, to support allies in the Middle East and project force in that region, to project force in the IO, Africa, Atlantic, and support allies and be a credible threat in the Pacific. IOW, to be able to send military forces pretty much everywhere on earth except Antartica, and to be able to send sufficient force to actually be a credible threat to anyone we are sending that force against.

It’s a $54 billion dollar (proposed) increase. Do you even know what it’s for or what it will be used for? :dubious: What do you base your assertion that ‘the majority of military spending ultimately does no good’ on? Seems to me that the primary thing the US military has done in the last 60 years is deterrence…and it’s been pretty good at that job. What do you get out of that? Peaceful trade and mainly stable allies, several of which have become world economic powers due to US protection. As a bonus we haven’t had another war costing 10’s of millions of lives and destroying many of the world’s largest industrial nations during that time…including our own.

And if the US ONLY had to defend NATO and nothing else you’d have a point. Consider…this would be the MINIMUM (which all but 5 countries in NATO don’t pay) that the US would have to spend JUST TO DEFEND EUROPE. Now…extrapolate that to everything that’s not in Europe and you get an idea why the US spends what it spends.

I don’t so much mind that folks think the US spends to much, but it bugs me that few seem to understand WHY we spend what we spend. All these loopy replies about welfare for businesses or soldiers or it’s because of the industrial military complex (putting the cart before the horse) really shows that most 'dopers who reply to these sorts of threads don’t have a clue as to that ‘why’. Yet they have opinions about what we should spend based on their lack of understand of what and why we have spent what we have spent in the past.

Such as what? Can you give an example? My WAG is that you are talking about the F-35, but feel free to give examples of Congress buying a bunch of equipment that military doesn’t want.

If everyone in NATO spent the minimum then, yes…to defend Europe and protect NATO interests that would be enough. The US, however, has commitments beyond NATO…that is just one of many military alliances and treaties we are involved in. As I said, do the math…if that $371 Billion is the minimum we need to spend for NATO, what do we spend for the defense of Taiwan? South Korea? Japan? All our other allies in all the other ‘not Europe’ parts of the world? Let’s say that NATO constitutes half our global military commitment…how much ‘should’ the US spend in that case? What if NATO only constitutes a 1/3 of our commitment? How about then?

None at all. Killing another human being is not something that can ever be justified, under any circumstances, for any reason. We shouldn’t have an entire arm of the state devoted to doing it.

Here is an article about Congress buying unneeded tanks for the army. Also XT, Canada is part of NATO and they are not in Europe.

That’s right. SWAT teams should just let school shooters continue to rampage, and try to talk the killer out of the spree instead.