THE BLOG
08/10/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Do We Spend So Much On National Security?

"I've never seen our lack of strategic depth be where it is today."

General Richard Cody, Army Vice Chief of Staff
TIME, April 14, 2008

Let me see now, there is no USSR cold war threat. China spends $45/citizen for defense, while we invest about $2700/person on national security. Iran and North Korea are not global menaces. There are probably fewer than 100,000 terrorists, with a small fraction of them worthy of our concern. There will be no conquering enemy on the horizon for generations to come, if ever again. It was on this note that I submitted my first HuffPost on May 29, 2008 entitled, "Well, Barack, We have a Problem..."

How significant is national security in our Federal budget? Our fiscal 2008 discretionary funding is $941.4 billion. Defense and related accounts amount to $553.8 billion, but a supplemental sum of $306.6 billion needs to be added for our Global War on Terror and related needs. Thus, this year, we will spend $859.9 billion on WAR, much more than double what the Federal Government will expend on everything else! The Department of Energy will get $23.9 billion, of which about a $1 billion will be for renewable energy development, and the Environmental Protection Agency will spend $7.5 billion.

Is General Cody, maybe, exaggerating the truth? Actually, probably no, but not for a reason you might expect. With defense taking up so much of the national budget, you would think that we should be well covered to both defend ourselves and manage a ragtag bunch of terrorists. Well, our troop strength in the Middle East is below 200,000. Divided by our population of 304 million, this gives a ratio of 0.0006. In 1945, we had 16 million mobilized with a population of 140 million. The ratio then was 0.1143. In other words, if you divide .0006 into .1143, this would mean that we should be able to increase our total troop strength in this world hot spot by a factor of close to 200.

That comparison is almost meaningless, of course, for we have three million in uniform and reserve. But this makes you wonder what the concern is with only 6% of our available military actually in the Middle East, having had a period longer than World War II to make strategic adjustments. On an equal ratio basis with 1945, we should be able to mobilize 35 million, and GlobalFirePower.com points out that about 109 million are fit for military service in our country. Now that would really jack up the defense budget. Sure, this would mean a serious draft, but there is something about national service that deserves to be considered, anyway, for both genders.

All these numbers and analyses are interesting, maybe, but the whole point is, why are we spending so much money on national security? Is there a better way to gain the peace? We can talk about the military-industrial complex and their hammerlock over the White House and Congress. That's formidable, make no mistake about that. But perhaps the nature of world politics is such that the time has again come for us to mind our own business and invest in our national infrastructure and personnel. Maybe also do something about Peak Oil and Global Warming, too. Our presidential candidates talk about change, and our defense budget is a good place to start, providing the financial resources to actually do some real good. My initial HuffPost on "Well, Barack, We have a Problem..." provides a vision for this scenario.