Biden’s Proposed Military

Addressing Republican response to the defense budget proposal:

First, can we make up our minds whether we’re interested in disengaged, stay-at-home isolationism where a strong military isn’t needed at the funding levels we’re used to, or instead a hyper-aggressive stance where we’re not just ready for war with China, Russia, etc., but are willing to get so strong we’ll provoke it if necessary? Because Trump at least notionally advocated the former, but the party is currently pushing the latter as its main argument.

Okay, say we just agree that it’s worth having a robust defensive posture flexible to the geopolitical demands of the moment. Then we should immediately able to agree that absolute funding levels aren’t as important as what the money’s being spent on.

With that in mind, let’s proceed. The general theme to me seems to be “spend the money we already have better,” which seems pretty desirable in any case. Endless amounts of money won’t do you any good if you it’s wasted; that should be the first lesson of anyone who’s actually served in the military.

So despite what you may have heard, part of the “flat” change comes from withdrawing from Afghanistan while adding $5bn in new spending specifically dedicated to the Pacific in response to increased aggression from China.

On top of that, in the new budget we stand to gain:

  • 3800 modern replacements of the armored Humvee

…as well as:

  • $130.4bn in general R&D

There are also provisions for military life stuff:

  • 2.7% pay raise for military personnel (comparable to modern era)

A subtle but important point to emphasize: This is all on top of what the military already has. Another is that we should care about what something important actually costs instead of fetishizing dollar amounts in and of themselves.

Some hay has been made out of the climate change stuff added into the proposal. First: that’s not a bad thing, and you’re out of touch with science if you dispute that. Second: it’s less than 0.1% of the total funding proposal. In a way, that’s disappointing, but the military isn’t going to unilaterally solve global warming. It (especially the navy) can bolster itself against adverse like effects like the rising seas. Certainly considering the national security implications would be a wise thing to do. Russia is already taking advantage of the warming seas and climate to increase their Arctic naval passage.

So all in all… I mean, maybe this isn’t enough given current geopolitical threats? I don’t see it, but if so I’d certainly like to see the homework on that. Show your work, don’t just claim things!

Finally, I think Congress should simply fully fund the unfunded wishlist. It’s a drop in the bucket financially against the cost of the military at large, but could have pretty significant practical benefits involving boring but important stuff like infrastructure, maintenance, etc. Total cost seems to be about be about $17bn against a $715bn total seems fine: a 2.3% increase. But I guess in DC terms that is a pretty aggressive increase on top of what they were already asking for.

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Christopher Sharp

This effort has evolved to primarily be for clearly communicating technical subject matter to the public: largely my two passions astrophysics and space travel.