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Does America Really Need to Spend More on Defense?

Does America Really Need to Spend More on Defense?

America can’t buy perfect security.

There is little consensus about the details of President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2017  defense budget request, and there are few challenges of the underlying assumptions upon which the request is built. Congress, pundits and thought leaders argue over the makeup of the request and question whether the U.S. Department of Defense should fund a strategy of posture or presence, capability or capacity, readiness or investment, nuclear or conventional. The debate has also questioned whether President Obama’s budget request is too small, or if it makes smart choices. For example, the Pentagon civilian leadership claims it needs at least $11 billion more in FY 2017 to execute the president's national security strategy. Eighty-four defense hawks in Congress seek a $50 billion increase in the base defense budget. The Heritage Foundation is calling for a $75 billion increase in the baseline, while the Rand Corporation wants to add $50 billion and the Brookings Institution seeks $30 billion to $40 billion more. Only Third Way seems happy with the size of the FY 2017 defense budget.

Proponents of spending increases above the requested levels, from both the Pentagon and the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, generally criticize the budget based on two major premises. First, they claim the defense budget does not provide enough funding to support the United States’ current military strategy for dealing with today’s threats. Second, to deal with the threats facing the country, they argue that the defense budget does not receive an appropriate portion of the U.S. economy or the total federal budget.

For FY 2017 the Pentagon is requesting $528 billion in its base budget, an amount agreed to by the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress in December 2015 which gives the Pentagon about $30 billion in relief from the budget caps. In addition, the Pentagon is asking for another $59 billion in the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, account—not because that amount is needed to fight the nation's wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but because the budget deal negotiated with Congress in 2015 specified that the OCO account must never fall below that level, whether such funds are needed for the wars or not. In FY 2017, as in previous years, at least half of the $59 billion is not related to the war. The 2015 budget agreement, however, has essentially turned the OCO account into a slush fund to pay for routine defense programs and get around the budget caps, which impact all federal agencies.

In addition, the administration requested another $20 billion in the budget for defense-related activities in the Department of Energy. This amount will enable the National Nuclear Security Agency, or NNSA, to begin the trillion-dollar modernization of America’s nuclear arsenal. In addition there is another $8 billion for defense-related activities in other federal agencies thus bringing the total defense budget for FY 2017 to about $610 billion.

In spite of DOD’s significant funding request, critics of the budget point to the relatively low percentage of gross domestic product, or GDP, that defense will consume in FY 2017—which has fallen from a recent high of 4.7 percent in 2010 to the current level of 3.3 percent—as a reason for increased defense spending in FY 2017. This reasoning is not new for advocates of ever-increasing budgets: the military establishment has long fantasized about tying defense spending to GDP because it would mean an increase in funding every year there is not a recession. Data on the raw, constant (or inflation-adjusted) defense dollars prove such arguments to be little more than sleight-of-hand. When President Ronald Reagan spent more than 6 percent of the GDP in 1986 on defense, for example, the GDP stood at $4.9 trillion; in 2015, when the Obama administration spent 3.3 percent on defense, the GDP totaled nearly $18 trillion in 2016 constant dollars.

There are obvious issues with chaining any type of discretionary spending to an arbitrary fraction of some debatable measure of economic growth, such as GDP. Such efforts have created an incentive to produce justifications for ever-expanding requests, regardless of the threat or strategy. The fact is that defense spending, adjusted to 2011 constant dollars, had a post–World War II historical peak in 2010, when President Obama budgeted $720 billion for such costs. This financing amounted to more than President Harry Truman spent at the height of the Korean War in 1953—$415 billion—and more than President Lyndon Johnson spent at the height of the Vietnam War, $522 billion in 1968. Even after the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the sequestration cuts in 2011, the United States has a larger defense budget than the next seven nations combined. Moreover, the United States alone accounts for more than 35 percent of the world’s defense expenditure.

In 2014, three years after withdrawing from Iraq and ending the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the United States actually spent more on defense than President Reagan did during the peak of the Cold War in 1986. These administrations spent a comparative $557 billion and $556 billion, respectively, when adjusted for inflation. It is important to note that the Reagan administration was simultaneously overseeing the modernization of the nuclear triad and competing in an arms race with the Soviet Union at the time.

Finally, President Obama has also collectively spent more on defense—$5.6 trillion, including the FY 2017 budget request—than the $4.5 trillion that President George W. Bush spent on defense during the entirety of his administration. The United States has spent roughly $10 trillion on defense in the last fifteen years—not counting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s budget, which will be another $40 billion this year, or the $80 billion we spend on intelligence; the ballooning costs of veteran’s benefits, which this year will reach $182 billion or the cost to the Treasury of amortizing the unfunded liabilities for military retirement benefits, which will total nearly $80 billion in FY 2017. Additionally, the U.S. Department of the Treasury calculates the total veterans’ benefits payable at $4.5 trillion.

With defense spending at historic highs in the absence of a major declared war, there has been a plethora of fallacious arguments to increase the size of the national security budget. The guiding documents that seek to define just what role U.S. military power should play in the current global environment—which primarily are DOD’s “2014 Defense Quadrennial Review,” or QDR and the White House’s 2015 “National Security Strategy”. These documents consistently characterize the threats to U.S. interests as increasingly serious challenges. Yet, these threats are only becoming more serious if one has a truncated view of history. Each of the identified threats has been a part of the U.S. strategic calculus for as far back as seventy years: Russia, which has been included since the beginning of the Cold War in 1947; China, since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950; North Korea, since the end of the Korean War in 1953; Iran, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979; and global terror networks, since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. National security strategy, and in particular the defense budget, paints these entities as having the intent and capacity to undermine the international order and threaten vital U.S. interests—which are always ill-defined—and allies.

 

There is a certain amount of truth to these arguments. However, such a military-dominant strategy works against the United States’ own interests by heightening tensions and mistrust, provoking arms races and diminishing other options—such as diplomacy, which receives far too little funding, economic engagement and institution building. The United States has a finite set of resources that need to be spent wisely. The DOD has historically been a terrible steward of taxpayer money—which is evidenced by seemingly guaranteed cost and time overruns on its weapon systems, as well as the fact that the DOD has not passed a full audit in years. The Pentagon does not need a blank check, but rather clear, smart, well-managed and achievable policies that work in conjunction with the array of other tools U.S. policymakers have at their disposal. As we pointed out several times, the country needs an integrated national security budget to make this happen.

This report looks in detail at a major area that the FY 2017 budget request only deals with superficially: the current threat environment facing the United States.

 

Threat environment in context

It is useful to contextualize the following threats in order to analyze the DOD’s rationale for such historically high funding requests.

Russia

Both the 2014 Defense Quadrennial Review and the current budget proposal place Russia in the quintet of threats. Without a doubt, the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, its continuing support of separatists in the Donbass area of Ukraine and its military campaign in Syria are all cause for concern. However, it is troubling that supporters of increasing defense spending have hyped these Russian actions into some kind of existential threat to the United States and its allies—especially in light of Russia’s behavior under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin. The Russian president went to war against Georgia after a breakdown in diplomatic ties over the status of Abkhazia and Ossetia—two contested territories with Russian-backed separatist governments that lacked international recognition—and the push by the Bush administration to grant NATO membership to Georgia. Fearing closer European–Ukrainian ties following a popular revolution that ousted the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, Russia annexed Crimea and sent military support to separatists in the Donbass area of eastern Ukraine. Previous pro-Western Ukrainian presidents had also expressed the desire to join NATO, a desire also supported by the George W. Bush administration. There is a common thread here that should not be discounted: Putin has targeted weak, former Soviet satellite states that are both on the West’s periphery and Russia’s borders that have declared their intention of joining a military alliance that Russia has always seen as encroaching and hostile.

NATO countries have decried Russian aggression, going so far as to impose a variety of economic and diplomatic sanctions. But there has been a demonstrated lack of will within the alliance to either formulate a coherent defense plan, increase the size of member state militaries or pool resources to meet the agreed upon defense spending goals, something the last three secretaries of defense have criticized publicly. The United States has long struggled with what President Obama calls the free-rider problem within NATO, spending an immense amount of U.S. taxpayer money to underwrite the security of nations who do not see the need to invest sufficiently and effectively in their own armed forces. While President Obama has publicly expressed concerns about this free-rider problem, the DOD budget does not. In fact, the FY 2017 defense budget has quadrupled the European Reassurance Initiative, or ERI, to $3.4 billion. The idea that an extra five thousand troops on rotation in Europe will somehow deter Putin—when the existing fifty thousand have not—is preposterous, and suggests that the ERI is more about halfhearted signaling than affecting a substantive change in European security. Additionally, by placing the ERI in the Overseas Contingency Operation fund and not making it part of the base defense budget, the DOD is sending a clear signal that this is not a long-term priority and therefore should not be implemented in FY 2017. It is obvious that President Obama and the U.S. allies in European both recognize that sanctions and low oil prices have made more of an impact on constraining Russia’s adventurism than any amount of posturing or any number of joint exercises.

In Syria, Russia has committed significant economic and military resources for a seemingly limited period of time to secure their bases and prop up their client, President Bashar al-Assad. In this endeavor, Russia has been successful in the short term. They have also essentially bought themselves a seat at the table when the time comes for a political settlement. However, just as the United States found itself spending hundreds of billions of dollars to support the fragile governments of Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia is faced with the long term prospect of sinking large amounts of political capital and money into an open-ended conflict in order to support an unpopular government. Putin’s decision to withdraw some of the Russian forces indicates that he believes he has achieved enough—the security of Russian bases and the continued survival of Assad. Putin’s strategy is ultimately reactionary and opportunistic: strike where the West has little to no interest, where the opponent is weak and unaligned and where there is either a significant chance of success or where there is a perceived existential security concern. Western defense planners speak of deterrence, but a state without leverage or overriding concern cannot deter a military-capable state. Yet, even as the rhetoric on both sides of the old East–West divide has ratcheted up, Putin has shown a willingness to cooperate when it suits him—particularly in Syria, where the United States and Russia have “deconflicted” the battle space, jointly worked to destroy Assad’s chemical stockpiles and worked to arrange a ceasefire.

In short, Russia is not the Soviet Union, nor is Putin the next Stalin. In fact, he is someone with whom we can work as we have done in Iran and are now doing in Syria. He is a strongman and authoritarian, but he still derives legitimacy from popular support—which his military actions have generated—at least in the short term. After the deterioration in the post-Soviet years, most Russians greatly desire to return their nation to a great power status. In the face of a struggling economy, corrupt governance and the general decline in the prospects of the average Russian. Putin has found a means to keep that dream of Russian power alive. But his military engagements have been inconclusive, and he faces a bevy of other constraints that are outside of his power to circumvent. Russia today is tied into the international system in a way the Soviet Union never was, and it remains dependent on keeping within the good graces of the liberal order. To do otherwise would invite collapse. There would be no winner in a U.S.–NATO war with Russia, and no meaningful way to stop it from escalating to a nuclear exchange if one broke out. So, it is incumbent on the United States, as the leader of the free world, to continue to find nonmilitary solutions to the situation in Eastern Europe. Just as Iran was brought to the bargaining table through a combination of engagement, international sanctions and isolation, so might Russia.

China

Historic state behavior, military options and economic concerns make war with China even more inconceivable than war with Russia. After nearly a century of imperialism, war and disastrous reforms, Chinese party leaders have cemented their position through a combination of authoritarian controls and making the country more prosperous. China today is arguably freer than at any time since the end of the Chinese Civil War, though civil, social and political rights have lagged far behind economic freedom and development. It was never a matter of if China would resume its position as a great power, but when. That time seems to be now—after years of spending on nondefense investment, Chinese leaders are now intent on creating a military on par with its world position. Here, though, is the line the Chinese Communist Party finds itself walking: spending on defense and pursuing a more muscular foreign policy, while ensuring the health of a national economy facing significant challenges and also answering demands for further liberalization and reforms.

In the South China Sea, China seems intent on using its military and economic power to shoulder aside competing territorial claims. The South China Sea represents one of the most important sea lanes in the world and sits on billions of dollars of proven oil and natural gas reserves. There are currently nine states—China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore, Cambodia and Brunei—that dispute ownership of some area of the sea. Despite occasional naval clashes between the parties, particularly Vietnam and China, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN—of which seven claimants are members—has worked to prevent a military escalation in the area and settle disputes. There is still a lack of an overarching treaty framework, however, and China has exploited that lack of cohesion. While China’s actions are provocative they do not represent clear and present danger to U.S. allies and interests. Continuing to maintain a strong naval presence in the area, by means of the pivot to Asia, is undoubtedly an important policy, but so is building allied capability, by policies such as lifting the arms embargo against Vietnam, while also working toward a diplomatic settlement, such as finally ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which our military has recommended for thirty years.

China also holds the key to any kind of peaceful resolution on the Korean peninsula. As North Korea’s sole patron, China has the most leverage over Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship and only through their cooperation can the United States hope to finally achieve the end of nuclear proliferation in the area. It is apparent the administration understands China’s important role in ensuring security for the United States and our allies. Thus, trade agreements and military events such as the Rim of Pacific Exercise, or RIMPAC, continue to be prime drivers in maintaining and strengthening bilateral ties. Growth of military technology and doctrine that seeks to counter traditional areas of U.S. superiority, such as the much-discussed Anti-Access/Area-Denial, or A2/AD, cyber and space capabilities, should act as a guide for future research and development rather than a justification for even more money than is in the FY 2017 budget.

China does not want a war, particularly over territory like the South China Sea. Its actions have already led to a multinational coalition to balance against it, renewing and reinforcing ties between the United States and partners such as Japan and the Philippines. China also happens to have major investments in and trade relationships with all interested parties in the area. To an even greater degree than Russia, China is constrained by its place within the world economy and the need to keep positive trade balances to avoid slowing its economic growth.

Open conflict would be devastating to every nation in the region—in both economic and human terms—which makes the likelihood of such an event incredibly slim. This means that military posturing alone will not deter China’s aim to establish itself as a power to be reckoned with; based on its size and its economy, that outcome is a foregone conclusion. The degree to which China feels the need to invest in its military and behave aggressively against its neighbors will be determined by many factors, both foreign and domestic, that are outside of U.S. control. China has had to slash 300,000 people from its armed forces because rising wages have made maintaining the world’s largest standing army prohibitively expensive. But it is within the power and in keeping with the interests of the United States to not further escalate the situation and instead continue to help the region work toward a peaceful solution that ensures freedom of trade and movement.

North Korea

North Korea is a unique case, as far as threats to the United States and its allies go. The Hermit Kingdom moniker is truly apt; North Korea is a pariah state, the last of the totalitarian regimes of the post–World War II era and the poorest country in East Asia. Across North Korea’s borders are two economic powerhouses, states that enjoy a level of material wealth that would seem fantastic to the average North Korean citizen if he or she was aware of it. The Kim dynasty has beggared, brutalized and isolated its people to keep them in a state of paranoia and submission while maintaining the comfort of regime leaders. The thinking of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is unclear and intelligence and reporting from within the country is extremely limited. But judging from its words and deeds, North Korea sees itself as capable and willing of attacking South Korea, Japan and the United States.

Menace and small-scale aggression is Kim’s preferred course of action. The idea that North Korea would strike preemptively, however, is not in keeping with historic behavior or the weakness of its position. While North Korea could undoubtedly devastate portions of South Korea or Japan with its current armament of short and intermediate range ballistic missiles and artillery, to do so would be regime suicide. China plays a huge role in preventing North Korean rhetoric and actions from escalating to the point of war. While China has some ideological and historical ties to the Kim dynasty that will prevent it from abandoning the country outright, North Korea is a huge liability. Maintaining good relationships and ongoing trade with the United States, South Korea and Japan is essential to a healthy Chinese economy—North Korea is not. But that does not mean that China will countenance an overthrow of Kim, as it still prefers a buffer between itself and the thirty thousand American troops stationed on the Korean peninsula.

With the country’s ongoing nuclear tests and possible success in miniaturizing nuclear warheads to fit into its inventory of ballistic missiles, North Korea should be treated carefully. Kim strives to retain his grip on power above all else, and his ongoing nuclear weapons program serves as key element in that strategy. His recent moves may have finally depleted the reservoir of patience of both North Korea’s patron and former allies, however, as both Russia and China have condemned the tests and are publicly pressuring Kim to implement the U.N. Security Council resolution banning ballistic missile tests while also calling for a resumption of Six-Party Talks. Whether this current effort will bear fruit is questionable, but the U.S. deterrence strategy has proven to be ineffective at halting further North Korean weapons development and other policies, like increasing sanctions and continuing to conduct maritime training missions, should be explored.

Iran

Iran constitutes a top regional threat, particularly from the perspective of Israel and Sunni Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Iran’s support of Hezbollah, backing of Assad in Syria and potential inciting of sectarian violence among Shi’a minorities in the Gulf, have kept the country as a military challenge for the United States and its allies. The Iran nuclear deal framework, worked out among members of the U.N. Security Council and the European Union, has made great strides in reducing the chance of nuclear weapons proliferation in the greater Middle East. The deal, however, should be viewed as transactional rather transformational—Iran approved the agreement because sanctions had seriously damaged its economy. The Guardian Council and the Revolutionary Guard Corps—which are the centers of power within Iran—still have far too much invested domestically in maintaining animosity than in truly easing tensions with the United States. It serves their purposes to continue to depict the United States as the nemesis of the Islamic Revolution.

Although Iran has not openly confronted the United States militarily, it has positioned itself to play a key role in the future of two countries in which the United States now has a vested interest: Syria and Iraq. Iran and Russia’s financial and military aid to Syria’s Assad has given his regime new legs and ensured, at great human cost, that he will survive to the end of the civil war. In Iraq, the Shia majority government in Baghdad has come to rely more heavily on Iranian-backed militias and Revolutionary Guard advisors to reinforce its own flagging military capabilities in the fight against ISIS. Both moves have come in reaction to ISIS’s stunning territorial gains in 2014 that have compromised the sovereignty of its two allies and severely destabilized the area. Any losses in Iraq and Syria threaten the Sunni–Shia balance of power in the region and Iran’s own security. Leveraging the weakness of its partners with a competent military financed by oil revenues, Iran has sought to establish itself as an indispensable nation. To an extent, Iran has been successful, but there are indications that it has made the same classic mistake as many major powers: overextension.

As the civil war in Syria grinds on and the Islamic State, or ISIS, is dislodged from its strongholds in Iraq with great difficulty, Iran has found itself simultaneously managing wars in two countries—either directly or by proxy. How long they can maintain that position is unknown. Although the nuclear framework deal lifted certain sanctions and unfroze billions of dollars, the multimonth slump in oil prices has strained Iran’s cash reserves. Like Russia, Iran may have bitten off more than it can chew in directly intervening in Syria, where it must contend not only with the Islamic State but with an array of Sunni proxy forces who are all angling for Assad’s downfall. If the United States wishes to restore peace to the region, then it will be necessary to deal politically with Iran, just as it will be for Russia. How the United States can find a solution between the interests of its Sunni allies, Iran, Russia and Assad will not come from more U.S. military involvement in the region beyond the forces it has already deployed and which will cost at least $20 billion in FY 2017.

Global terrorist networks

Russia, China, Iran and even North Korea are all threats inasmuch as they challenge either U.S. allies, interests or global military dominance—but they still have the limitations of nation-states. Global terrorist networks, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, do not have the same restrictions; they are amorphous, have no need or desire to negotiate and they thrive on military confrontation. As history has shown, just as the United States has seemingly written the epitaph of one group, another rises from its ashes, fueled by widespread discontent and chaos to inflame even more of both. The presence of global terror networks across the globe speaks to the reality of what occurs when weak states—such as Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria—lose control of their territory and forfeit the trust of their population.

During the fifteen years since 9/11, the United States and its allies have spent trillions of dollars and suffered thousands of combat deaths and wounded and contributed to the death of thousands of people and the displacement of millions in a war on terrorist networks. Yet these efforts have offered little in the way illuminating a solution to extremism. Drone strikes and special operations raids have proven effective at killing people, but there never seems to be an end to the list of targets. DOD has stated in clear terms that it intends to move away from stabilization operations to a more conventional footing. The failures over the last decade have made the military shy away from counterinsurgency, if the complete absence of the word in the DOD FY 2017 budget request is any indication.

While there is certainly a place for direct military action against these extremist groups who have killed and displaced millions of people, the root of extremism extends deep into disaffection with the status quo of authoritarian governments and touches upon a variety of ethnic, tribal, religious, social and economic tensions. Hellfire missiles will not resolve any of these issues, but they can address the more pressing or actively threatening aspects, at least temporarily. The problems rightly look insurmountable to an outsider because of their complexity and durability. There cannot be stability without peace, and there cannot be peace without security. But there is no will, in the United States or elsewhere, to once again commit the billions of dollars and tens of thousands of troops required to deal with open-ended civil conflicts. The United States is not the only nation affected by these crises and it cannot address these issues alone; however, its potential partners each have their own agenda—which is often counterproductive to creating a workable security situation, for example, the Saudi and Turkish funding of Islamists in Syria. Ultimately, it will take an across-the-board realization among the United States, its allies and other concerned parties that pursuing narrow interests in these failing states rather than dealing with the critical threats from ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliated groups will result in nothing more than setting up the next war or insurgency.

Conclusion

This analysis shows that the United States spends more now, in real terms, on defense and defense-related activities and obligations than at any time since World War II. This spending is absent threats that can be completely resolved militarily. The United States is not likely go to war with Russia or China in the near future; North Korea will not be deterred by more military exercises or an enhanced presence; Iran is not likely to attack Israel or any other U.S. regional ally; global terror networks may be hammered by U.S. munitions but the reasons for their existence will not go away no matter how much more force is applied. Meanwhile, as we first pointed out in 2010, adding more money to the defense budget takes funds away from other important budgetary areas, such as infrastructure, education, jobs programs and clean energy.

The United States has a security dilemma: It has built a global network of alliances and committed to a permanent worldwide military presence to which dozens of countries look for security assurance. Eleven presidents have each in their own way tried to build upon the post-World War II liberal order, creating or fostering democracy where possible, building international institutions and underwriting the security of hundreds of millions of people. This has been in the nation’s interest, and served to produce a durable peace among many former enemies based on liberal democracy and free trade. These obligations have come at a cost, however, and because of the primacy of U.S. power and the seeming inevitably of the U.S.-backed world order, policymakers have failed to reckon with what those costs entail. This is not to say that the United States should abandon allies or withdraw from the world, but U.S. strategy must come to terms with the constraints imposed by trends and events outside of its control.

The Cold War is past. The era of “unipolarity,” if it ever truly existed, is gone. The United States must adapt and determine how best to uphold the work of the past seventy years and improve upon what exists while countering nontraditional approaches that undermine the order it helped build. Hardening U.S. and allied information systems against cyberattacks, building redundancy and flexibility into critical infrastructure, such as satellite communications and national power grids and researching the impact of information warfare—whether conducted by China or the Islamic State—should all be pursued. Building a manned joint strike fighter in the drone era that will cost a trillion dollars over its lifecycle or spending another trillion to modernize a Cold War nuclear force should not.

Tanks and nuclear bombs have very little use in the modern world, and the chance of a conventional war with any near-peer is extremely unlikely. Hostile or unfriendly nations seek to counter traditional U.S. dominance in areas of traditional strength by finding cheap and effective asymmetric means, which the defense budget rightly addresses, at least to some extent. The bulk of the money, however, is being spent in domains where DOD feels most comfortable and where political support exists.

Simply put, the United States cannot buy perfect security. No amount of money will ever be capable of banishing fear, no matter how unmoored from reality or probability it might be. The United States requires leadership that can see the world for what it is and must not fall into the rut of consensus that favors the status quo and entrenched interests over facing the ambiguity of a changing world. The United States needs a strategy that recognizes the constraints and limits of its power, develops options outside of airstrikes and boots on the ground and utilizes tools that have the best chance to achieve a desired outcome. The current global trends make it apparent that the utility of the military to solve problems is limited. The time has come for Washington to come to grips with that fact and apply some of its famed American ingenuity to these seemingly intractable problems. If the liberal order—which brought peace in Europe and turned enemies into allies—is worth preserving, then it must be safeguarded by an engaged public and clear-eyed and dynamic representatives not by spending more money on defense.

Lawrence J. Korb is a Senior Fellow at American Progress. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Prior to joining American Progress, he was vice president, director of studies and holder of the Maurice Greenberg Chair at the Council on Foreign Relations. From 1981 to 1985, he was assistant secretary of defense. Eric M. Goepel is a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns and is currently a HillVets fellow. He is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, with a major in political science. He is also a U.S. Army veteran with seven years of experience in the fields of communications and intelligence.

Image: F-35 in flight. Pixabay/Public domain.