An Undisciplined Defense: Understanding the $2 Trillion Surge in US Defense Spending

Carl Conetta. Project on Defense Alternatives Briefing Report 20, 18 January 2010.
Executive Summary:


… DoD’s total workforce is probably as large today as it was in 1989 (or even larger), but less of the total is in uniform. This accords with the rise in O&M spending and also with studies… which suggest that the contractor workforce may have grown by as much as 40% since 1989. By comparison, the full-time military and DoD civilian workforces are both about 32% smaller today than in 1989.

When strategic discipline is lax, legacy modernization tends to predominate, due to its institutional momentum. Eventually, external circumstances may compel a rush of ad hoc adaptive measures – as is the case today with regard to procurement to meet counter- insurgency needs. These may then come to predominate, prematurely. The only remedy is to strongly discipline force modernization in accord with a sustainable, adaptive, and cost-effective national security strategy. The various scenarios and missions that define military requirements must be strongly prioritized, and these priorities must be enforced from the center.

A permissive spending environment is the precondition for the types of problems identified in this report. It is easy enough to point to the 11 September 2001 attacks as the progenitor of this condition. However, as we note, the surge in spending began before 2001. Moreover, Gallup polls show that public support for increased spending was higher in the two years prior to the attacks than in the two years after. And it has receded significantly since then. This points to a more fundamental enabling condition: presently there seems to be little political gain (and much risk) in pressing for the type of tight DoD budget constraints that might prompt through-going reform and transformation. Nonetheless, emerging fiscal realities may soon compel increased attention to how the nation allocates scarce resources among competing national goals — foreign and domestic, military and non-military. And this might put the nation on the road to a disciplined defense.

Comments are closed.