A Blank Check Won’t Make the U.S. More Secure – The New York Tim
by THE EDITORIAL BOARD · February 28, 2017
President Trump’s plan to raise military spending for the coming fiscal year by $54 billion, or nearly 10 percent, won’t strengthen America’s security, and might, in fact, undermine it. To pay for this unjustified increase, Mr. Trump reportedly plans to cut spending on other agencies, most notably the State Department and foreign aid, whose contribution to American security is at least as important as more armaments and troops.
Slashing support for diplomacy would leave the government with fewer tools to prevent conflict. For that very reason, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued vigorously for increases in the State Department budget and the foreign aid account. Jim Mattis, the new defense secretary, should do the same. Foreign aid amounts to about 1 percent of federal spending, or $42.4 billion, much of it for American-made weaponry.
President Trump speaking about the budget on Monday at the White House. Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
The $600 billion yearly Pentagon budget is certainly not too low, given the drawdown of troops fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Trump should be asking himself not how to heave more billions at the Pentagon but how to make sure it is spending its existing budget wisely.
The United States already spends more on the military than the next seven countries combined, and maintains the most advanced fighting force in the world. For nearly a decade after Sept. 11, the Pentagon had a virtual blank check, receiving an 11 percent increase in 2002 and a 10 percent increase in 2008, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. President Barack Obama’s proposed increase for the 2018 fiscal year, at 6 percent, was already excessive, and now Mr. Trump has gone significantly higher.
While he argued in a speech on Friday for making “one of the greatest military buildups in American history,” Mr. Trump has offered no coherent case for more money or how it would be spent. Certainly, he hasn’t suggested that the United States should prosecute another war, having talked broadly about avoiding new conflicts and retreating from international leadership.
Yet, experts say the $54 billion increase, which he is expected to unveil formally in a speech to Congress on Tuesday night, could only be justified by a whole new level of force deployment in regions where the American military presence is relatively limited. One administration official said Mr. Trump’s request would include more money for new ships and aircraft and for establishing a “robust presence in key international waterways and choke points,” like the Straits of Hormuz and the South China Sea, Reuters reported. This appears at odds with Mr. Trump’s rhetoric about prompting allies to take more responsibility for defending themselves while America focuses on securing its own borders.
Mr. Trump’s plan, administration officials say, would impose spending cuts on nondefense programs — while sparing Social Security and Medicare from any cuts — to pay for the gigantic Pentagon increase. That’s a choice that would harm millions of Americans while shoveling more profits to military contractors.
Of course, the president may not get very far with his proposal. Congress may well refuse to lift budget caps it imposed in 2011 on defense spending and on domestic programs. The United States is not made stronger by over-investing in the military, but by making smart choices about defense while investing in its people, seeking peaceful solutions to conflicts and respecting the democratic institutions that Mr. Trump is working to erode.es.