October 20, 2000
WASHINGTON Forget missile defense: military readiness has emerged as the hot defense issue on the presidential campaign trail this year, with both candidates pledging to increase spending to counter perceived readiness shortfalls. But according to a new study from the Cato Institute, the Defense Department doesn't need more money because the readiness problem is overstated.
In "A Hollow Debate on Military Readiness," Director of Defense Policy Studies Ivan Eland points out that U.S. forces have bone-crushing dominance over any other military on the planet. "The American military is more potent relative to its potential enemies than were the militaries of any great power in world history," he says.
Although U.S. defense spending exceeds that of the next seven countries combined and is 19 times higher than the combined spending of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and North Korea the candidates have launched a bidding war to see who can throw the most cash at the Pentagon for political gain, according to Eland.
But while the military has "experienced shortages of personnel, spare parts and training, the `readiness crisis' is largely illusory," he writes. The U.S. military is not woefully underfunded, as hawks claim, but "woefully overcommitted and overprogrammed." Some areas of unreadiness do exist in the U.S. military, according to Eland, but those are not caused by a lack of defense spending.
"Many of the pockets of unreadiness in an otherwise dominant military are caused by those furious and far-flung deployments, which rapidly wear out equipment and people and incur significant costs," he argues. Excess military bases are retained and unnecessary weapons are purchased. This misallocation of defense resources "robs the coffers set aside for unglamorous spending on readiness, such as buying spare parts and paying for training," he writes. But the threat environment has also changed. Since no country comes close to being able to threaten the U.S. militarily, "U.S. armed forces do not need to be kept in the high states of readiness they were during the Cold War," he says.
Eland concludes that "no increases in spending would be needed to remedy 'pockets of unreadiness' if U.S. commitments overseas were cut back, misallocation of resources by the Pentagon and Congress ceased, and readiness requirements were reduced in a benign post-Cold War threat environment."
The Cato Institute is a nonpartisan public policy research foundation dedicated to broadening policy debate consistent with the traditional American principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.