Mallory Factor makes a great point about military spending in his latest Forbes article, What’s the Real Defense Budget?
The purpose of a large standing army is to provide for our national defense. But in recent years a growing percentage of that budget has been spent on activities that don’t involve traditional national defense. These include nation-building, policing foreign nations, humanitarian missions and ferrying executive- and legislative-branch leaders and their attendants around the globe. While these activities may be tangentially related to our standing in the world, they do not enhance our war-fighting capabilities; rather they relate more to the success of our foreign policy than to our national defense.
Rightly or wrongly, we give our military these various assignments because we don’t want to pay someone else to do them, and other government entities currently can’t. Yet just because our military can do these jobs doesn’t mean that it should. Indeed, these assignments shift focus away from the military’s core missions: keeping America safe and winning wars.
Right now it is difficult for Congress to determine how much money is spent on protecting the U.S. The “military” budget gives an exaggerated impression of the cost of our national defense.
The military’s nondefense activities may or may not be warranted, but their total costs must be transparent. If Congress does not consider these costs separately, traditional defense missions and essential equipment upgrades will be crowded out.
In accounting parlance, this is known as activity based costing, or evaluating your costs in a way that better lines up with the activities those costs are supporting. The advantage to this approach is that it gives a much better way to prioritize activities and make good decisions about should and should not be cut.
So instead of trying to cut the big bucket of military spending, we can properly look at the costs generated from the multiple activities like providing defense services for other countries, or providing protection for humanitarian missions and we may have a better idea of the consequences of cutting those respective activities.