National Security

Published — May 7, 2012

What would your Pentagon budget look like?

Join the conversation on the public’s agenda for military spending

Introduction

How would you cut U.S. military spending? We’ve received some great, in-depth answers from folks who have responded to our daily questions on defense spending. Today marks the eighth installment, and we’ll have two additional days of new questions before we unveil the results from our official survey of a representative sample of the national population, which we conducted with the Program for Public Consultation and the Stimson Center on Thursday.

Below, we’ve highlighted some of the comments left by readers on our questions so far. We hope these insights will be a way to generate discussion about the public’s opinions on military spending, and the priorities that citizens place when it comes to the Pentagon’s taxpayer-funded pocketbook.

Please feel free to participate in any of the individual discussions by adding your thoughts beneath each featured comment below. You can also submit your own answer to each question by clicking the red bar that reads “Click to vote and see this question’s background information.”

Thanks again for all who have taken the time to share your insights with us. Join us for a live chat this Thursday at 2pm EST as we discuss the findings.

Editor’s Note: The Center does not endorse any of the comments featured below; they are curated from the variety of responses we received in hopes of sparking further discussion around the issues in the poll.

Tell us: Should the U.S. lead in military spending or share more of the burden?

Click to vote and see this question’s background information

Pro — The United States is exceptional and should be leading the world, not following it. U.S. military power has been a major stabilizing force that has contributed to global peace. The U.S. should have the ability to quickly and decisively project overwhelming military power anywhere in the world. Cutting defense spending would undermine this ability. It would send a signal that we are no longer committed to playing our leadership role; our allies would lose confidence in us; adversaries would challenge us; and Asian countries might increasingly come under China’s influence.

Con — The U.S. has far more military power than any other nation and more than enough to protect itself and its allies. But we are playing the role of world policeman too much, and we are building up our military power to project it everywhere in the world. We can deal with global threats by working together with our allies and sharing the burden. We don’t have to have a military so big that we can do everything, and do it all by ourselves.

Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

I wish I could vote for both. I don’t think it’s this cut and dry. We need to maintain the ability to project force anywhere in the world, but global and regional stability are overrated. We should trim back some operations and learn to manage instability rather than institute stability by force. But that’s an ugly task and American’s don’t have the stomach for it.

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Tell us: Does current military spending keep us safe or waste money?

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Pro — America is threatened by an increasingly hostile world, with threats coming from many corners of the globe. Reducing our military would lower our guard and make us more vulnerable. If problems broke out in more than one place, we would not be able to deal with them all. Furthermore, cutting defense spending would be seen as a sign of weakness and would embolden our enemies to challenge our interests.

Con — Even though there is no country in the world that can even come close to matching us militarily, we are spending more than we did at the height of the Cold War. The national defense budget has gone up and up so that it is now more than three times all of our potential enemies combined. This is way out of proportion to the real threats we face and doesn’t buy us more security.

Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

One would have to establish that the world is indeed more hostile, and that we face such onerous threats. Since we aren’t supposed to be the world police, it isn’t our job to deal with problems breaking out across the globe. The idea that cutting defense means weakness is not true. It’s a straw man argument.

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Tell us: Can we afford what we spend on the military or is it weakening the economy?

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Pro — We do have deficit problems, but national security cannot be shortchanged. National defense is the first responsibility of government, and it is too important to let fiscal concerns dictate our level of spending on it. The US can clearly afford its current national defense budget — after all, it is just 4 percent of America’s economy and this percentage has been going down for some years.

Con — These enormous national defense budgets actually hurt us by adding to the deficit, weakening the economy, and obligating future generations to repay the debt. Other parts of the economy are short-changed, diverting talent and resources from other goals and weakening America’s economic competitiveness — which hurts our security in the long run. We need to rebalance our priorities and rein in defense spending.

Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

We must be prepared to spend as many trillions as necessary to defend civilization from those who would use force to implement their will.

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Tell us: Can military spending be cut or would job losses be too great?

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Pro — The U.S. government should not cut defense because many people would lose their jobs if defense factories and military bases were shut down. This would be a blow to working Americans and their families, hurt the economy, and drive up government costs to provide a social safety net for the jobless. Also, once this defense industrial base is lost, it is not easy to rebuild.

Con — There is a lot of waste in the national defense budget. Members of Congress often approve unnecessary spending for their districts or keep unneeded bases open, just to benefit their own supporters. The military branches buy duplicates of both weapons and services, and do a poor job of tracking where the money goes. Defense contractors persuade lawmakers to approve weapons that aren’t needed by giving them large campaign contributions and other personal benefits. Clearly there is room to cut the national defense budget without affecting U.S. security.

Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

The bloated defense budget wastes far more than it aids in created jobs, and with lack of transparency as to where all Americans tax dollars go when it comes to defense spending it is wrong. We could be using that money to pay down our enormous national debt which would have far more positive affects on our economy and lives of Americans. Using that money to invest in infrastructure could create millions of new jobs, a new green economy could be spurred.

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Tell us: Should we leave or stay in Afghanistan?

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Pro — We are making progress in Afghanistan, but the job is not yet done. If we pull out now, the Taliban could regain power and allow the country to become a safe haven for al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, as it did before 9/11. Furthermore, if we don’t stay the course, America will be seen as lacking resolve, and embolden terrorists to take the offensive. Too many lives and too much treasure have been invested.

Con — We have been in Afghanistan for over 10 years. We have achieved our primary objective by breaking al Qaeda’s central organization and its connection to the Taliban, as well as killing Osama bin Laden. It is time for the Afghan people to manage their own country and for us to bring our troops home.


Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

We cannot be expected to faithfully build a nation when our own is crumbling under the weight of financial obligations and political stalemates.

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Tell us: Is more military air power critical or do we have enough?

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Pro — Reducing spending on air power capabilities could limit our ability to strike any target on short notice and with precision. It could limit U.S. military access in some regions, such as Asia where the U.S. has growing interests, but has limited ground forces. Furthermore, the Air Force has played a key role in successfully tracking and targeting al Qaeda. Clearly air power is critical and should not be compromised.

Con — America’s air power is already by far the most powerful and advanced in the world. China’s air force is several decades behind the U.S., while Russia’s air force has been deteriorating for the last two decades. Nonetheless, the defense industry is always coming up with new, fancier, and more expensive technologies. We have more than enough to defend our own territory and that of key allies.

Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

People’s tax dollars must be spent on human needs: education, housing, health care. The US already has more than enough weapons to annihilate the planet.

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Tell us: Can we cut military ground forces or would that create worrisome risks?

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Pro — We’re still at war in Afghanistan. Reducing ground forces now could limit our ability to fight that war and still respond on short notice to a new emergency elsewhere. This would overstretch our forces and put strains on troop morale. Further, a large ground force contributes to the military’s ability to reassure allies and deter enemies.

Con — The U.S. has three quarters of a million soldiers and Marines on active duty and another quarter million in the reserves — troops that are the best trained and equipped in the world. The U.S. built up our active ground forces for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now that we are drawing them down, we can reduce our active duty ground forces and still have more than enough for whatever need may arise.

Editor’s note: Between now and May 9th, we will be presenting questions adapted from a national survey by the Program for Public Consultation, a nonprofit group affiliated with the University of Maryland, that was developed jointly with the Center for Public Integrity and the Stimson Center. The survey, which was done with a representative national sample, is meant to gauge public attitudes on whether and how defense spending should be reduced as part of Washington’s effort to trim projected federal deficits totaling $10 trillion over the next decade. The national survey is now being analyzed and findings will be presented on the websites of the three organizations involved and at a joint press conference on May 10th. Visitors to this website are welcome to register their opinions as well; a tally of those results (not to be confused with the findings of the scientific sample of the survey) may be given on the website at a later date. —R. Jeffrey Smith

Detailed post action analysis of every military action that we have been involved has confirmed that the impacts of air power by itself are fairly limited without boots on the ground. What these last 10 years have shown is we need to increase our ground combat capability not decrease it. One way to accomplish this would be start looking at the very significant number of military occupations that will never go in harm’s way and convert them to civilian jobs.

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