Politico ran a story earlier this week with the headline “How Congress Is Hollowing Out the Military.” Congress is forcing the Pentagon to pay for many expensive weapons programs it neither wants nor needs. This leaves less funding available for defense-related defense spending. Sequestration is putting further pressure on military finances. In fact, the winding down of Iraq and, one hopes, Afghanistan, have led to actual cuts in the DOD’s budget. The authors worry about how this could affect military readiness if an actual defense-related conflict were to arise.
To put this hollowness in context, I looked up a historical table (Excel format) of agency spending. It turns out the military has more than doubled its spending since 2000, from $290 billion to $586 billion in 2014. This is down from a 2010 peak of $695 billion, when Iraq and Afghanistan (and everywhere else the last two adminstrations have ventured) were more fiercely contested than today. The current defense budget is hardly austere.
I would be delighted to see Congress scrap unneeded weapons programs, though public choice problems probably preclude it. Regardless of political developments going forward, defense hawks need not worry about the Pentagon’s budget. Its long-run growth is practically assured, regardless of who is in power.