The Defense Budget and the War on Terror

Charles V. Peña of the Cato Institute looks at runaway U.S. defense spending, in Issues in Science and Technology.

For fiscal year (FY) 2005, military spending will be nearly $500 billion, which is greater in real terms than during any of the Reagan years and surpassed only by spending at the end of World War II in 1945 and 1946 and during the Korean War in 1952. The White House is asking for an FY 2006 Department of Defense (DOD) budget of $413.9 billion, which does not include funding for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The administration argues that increased military spending is a necessary part of the war on terrorism. But such logic assumes that the war on terrorism is primarily a military war to be fought by the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. The reality is that large conventional military operations will be the exception rather than the rule in the war on terrorism. Instead, the military’s role will mainly involve special operations forces in discrete missions against specific targets, not conventional warfare aimed at overthrowing entire regimes. The rest of the war aimed at dismantling and degrading the al Qaeda terrorist network will require unprecedented international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation, not expensive new planes, helicopters, and warships.