Commentary Magazine


The Logical Endpoint of Cutting Defense

To the Editor:

As usual, Victor Davis Hanson provides a clear and insightful view of American defense and the cost of preparedness [“America on Defense,” October]. His comparison of American 

defense spending with China’s defense budget, however, is somewhat illusory. While we undoubtedly spend more than the Chinese, about 80 percent of U.S. expenditures are on manpower concerns, e.g., billets and medical care, and 20 percent on “hardware,” such as planes, ships, bombs, and ordnance. By contrast, the Chinese expenditures are the reverse: 80 percent on weaponry and 20 percent on manpower needs. Relying on gross expenditures may not provide as clear a picture of U.S. superiority as Mr. Hanson suggests.

Herb London
New York City 

_____________

To the Editor:

Victor Davis Hanson correctly observes that “the new American thirst for entitlements and redistribution will result in crippling budget deficits and even more defense cuts.”

This is the danger of American liberalism as expressed through its elected representatives in the Democratic Party. Either by deliberate design, the law of unintended consequences, or a combination of the two, the policies of today’s Democratic Party will hollow out the U.S. military. 

By their own admission, the Democrats are committed to increasing the entitlement state and making as many Americans as possible dependent on government. As Mr. Hanson noted, this can only sap the strength and vitality of the U.S. economy and will, in short order, result in a significantly diminished military—another long-sought-after goal of the left.

Peter Skurkiss
Stow, Ohio

_____________

Victor Davis Hanson writes:

I appreciate Herb London’s kind remarks, and trust that he sees that the thrust of my article is that the proposed Obama administration defense cuts would present a real danger to U.S. national security. Concerning my initial reference to China’s budgets, I made the point about relative Chinese and American aggregate military expenditure in the context of what current critics of defense spending reassure us of—and as a proem to refuting just such false assurances. 

Second, I mentioned China more than a dozen times in the essay, almost always in the context of its ascendancy and danger to our own interests. Third, that said, while figures on relative expenditure are not exact, and while China, as Mr. London rightly warns, spends a greater percentage of its budget on hardware than do we, our far larger defense outlay (both in real dollar equivalents and greater percentages of a much larger gross domestic product), even loaded as it is with enormous manpower costs, nonetheless probably still results in more money spent on hardware and weaponry than is true of China. 

In that regard, a far greater percentage of Chinese military personnel are less skilled and less versatile than their better-paid American counterparts, who have responsibilities in high-tech surface ships, submarines, strategic bombers, missilery, drones, satellites, counter-insurgency, special forces, and cyberwar in a way that the less forwardly deployed Chinese military does not. The problem right now is not that China has achieved parity with the American military, but that its rates of economic growth, increases in military expenditure, growing bellicosity, and rapidly developing technological sector come at a time of massive American deficits and exhaustion, retrenchment, and erosion in confidence and purpose—all known to our Pacific allies who must make daily rational choices about their own national self-interests.

Peter Skurkiss returns to the well-known, larger controversy over the Obama administration’s priorities: Are they hopelessly confused or deliberately aimed at remaking the United States into something far different from what it was in the past? I tend to agree with Mr. Skurkiss that the staggering increase in entitlement spending and record numbers on some sort of public aid and assistance virtually assure higher taxes, defense cuts, and more favorable Democratic constituencies. These developments ensure a more liberal voting America, greater redistribution of private and supposedly ill-gotten income, and a more multipolar, multilateral world where UN consensus is seen as preferable to U.S. unilateralism made possible by an inordinately large and effective military. While the latter point was not the theme of my essay, it is a legitimate inference.




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