Defense Death Spiral

November 8, 2000

Over the last five years, evidence has mounted that the readiness of US military forces is declining:  training is less realistic, equipment is falling into disrepair, and most discouragingly, our best officers and NCOs are leaving at an unprecedented rate.  Compounding this deteriorating readiness situation, weapons inventories are continuing to age (i.e., the average age of all major weapons is still growing), indicating that the modernization program is not replacing old weapon systems on a timely basis.

The obvious answer, and the one advanced by both major presidential candidates, is that we are shortchanging defense—we simply need to spend more money.  But even a cursory look at the data raises doubts about such a convenient answer.

We are actually spending at the same rate we did during the Cold War, in constant dollars (inflation removed), except for the Vietnam years and the Reagan-Bush build-up.  We are spending roughly three times as much money on defense any conceivable combination of threats (China, Russia, and the "states of concern"), and this becomes over five times if we include US allies.  If there is not enough money, then there is something far more fundamentally wrong.

You may wish to read Mr. Spinney's interview with PBS's Frontline, where he covered many of these same points .

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