Defense Spending

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But what one writer calls modernization inflation remains. The current cost of building planes is fifteen to twenty times greater than in 1954, and although the new planes are technologically superior to the earlier ones, with greater firepower and greater effectiveness, there has been no reduction in the number of planes in an airforce wing. Similarly, the pre-World War II Navy was assigned fifteen capital ships in the Washington Naval Conference of 1921, which established the size of the world’s navies. In 1974 it continues to maintain the same number, but now they are aircraft carriers rather than battleships. These in turn are being replaced by nuclearpowered carriers, of which the last completed, U.S.S. Nimitz , cost $635 million. (The Eisenhower , currently being built, is estimated at $679 million; the unnamed CVN -70, still in development, is tentatively priced at $956 million.) Despite the greater speed and carrying capacity of these vessels, however, the Navy has no plans to reduce the size of its capital fleet. Indeed, supported by Jane’s Fighting Ships , the authoritative guide to the world’s navies, the Defense Department argues that the Russians are very close to achieving naval supremacy, if they have not already achieved it; and the chief of naval operations has warned that the reduction of the fleet from 434 major combat vessels, including submarines, in 1968 to 273 in 1975 has left us dangerously vulnerable.

Although every Secretary of Defense in recent years has argued that his budget is “austere”—as Mr. Schlesinger did in 1974—all have been ready to admit that no one can say with certainty what constitutes enough spending for national security. Each has been conscious of our worldwide commitments, ranging from the ring of armed forces around the Soviet Union to the possibility (for which we are prepared) of fighting two and a half wars—for example, a major conflict in Asia, a major war in Europe, and a “brush-fire” war somewhere else. Whether we should be so involved is a question only Congress can resolve, and thus far it has shown no disposition to face such hard questions as the necessity of maintaining more than 330,000 troops—and their 220,000 dependents—in Europe at an annual cost of more than $11 billion or the need for adding further to a nuclear capacity that according to Mr. Schlesinger is already so great that

even after a more brilliantly executed and devastating attack than we believe our potential adversaries could deliver, the United States would retain the capability to kill more than 30 per cent of the Soviet population and destroy more than 75 per cent of Soviet industry.

Until Congress systematically confronts the issues, the military budget will continue to mount, and unless mutual disarmament with the Soviet Union comes, we will annually expend upward of 6 per cent of our G.N.P. and 35 per cent of all federal outlays to support, as we do at the present time:

Perhaps the moneys could be better spent in other ways —but perhaps not, for the choices are not easy and they cannot be reduced to a simple “guns versus butter” argument. But on this one point the record is clear: twentyeight years of extraordinary military spending have yet to establish the sense of security the expenditures were expected to provide, and it seems that in a nuclear age money alone may not offer a lasting solution to the question of national defense.

The statistical sources for this article were: U.S. Bureau of the Census: Historical Statistics of the United States…Revised to 1962 and The Statistical Abstract…1974 ; U.S. Department of Defense: Report of the Secretary of Defense , selected years through fiscal year 1975; Executive Office of the President: The Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 1975 .