While taking a trip with Elaine on one episode of Seinfeld, Jerry got bumped to first class. While Elaine suffered in coach, an attractive flight attendant pampered Jerry with drinks and ice cream sundaes. “More of anything?” she asked. “More of everything!” Jerry declared.
It’s telling that that‘s what popped into my head while reading The Heritage Foundation’s new recommendations for U.S. military force structure under the Obama Administration. “Success requires a military capable of defeating traditional threats posed by nation-states, transnational threats from terrorist organizations and organized crime, and dangers from collapsed states, such as piracy.”
To Heritage, that means more of everything:
* Buying 2,400 new Air Force fighters, versus the roughly 2,000 projected in current plans
* Increasing the long-term Navy carrier fleet from 11 to 13
* Building more than the planned three DDG-1000 stealth destroyers, despite their $5-billion price
* Maintaining the Army’s Future Combat Systems modernization scheme, despite its delays and cost increases
“On this basis, the budget target for defense should be to maintain today’s levels of spending, adjusting for economic growth — roughly 4 percent of GDP.”
But today’s budgets are inadequate even for today’s force structure. Expanding the force means spending more than 4 percent. That’s simply a non-starter in a global recession.
“The United States cannot arbitrarily pick the enemies that it wants to fight or ignore potential threats that may become challenges or conflicts,” Heritage contends. True, but we can choose to accept a higher level of risk in preparing for the types of conflicts that are clearly remote contingencies. Major state-on-state warfare is less likely today than at any point in recent history. That means we can relax requirements for major, conventional-war hardware, especially fighter jets and aircraft carriers.
Besides, we don’t really have a choice. Defense spending simply will not rise above 4 percent of GDP, no matter what Heritage wants. And 4 percent buys a future force with fewer major combat systems than today’s.
In other words, there’s no free upgrade to first class. We’re flying coach. Get used to it.