The Armed Forces of the United States is, without question, the most powerful military force in human history. The ability of the U.S. military to project power across the globe would leave the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire and the British Empire in awe. Without a doubt, there is no nation in existence that has the capacity to challenge American military supremacy. Yet despite the incredible strength of American military hegemonic power, our armed forces are in desperate need of change.
First, it is key to understand that a strong, powerful American military is central to global peace and prosperity. Though some may scoff at the ages old “peace through strength” policy, one cannot deny the effects that a strong American military presence has had on the world. The might of American military power has helped to fight genocide, civil war, sex trafficking and dangerous dictatorships. The fury of America’s military helped to bring down some of the most despicable men in modern history, from Muammar Gaddafi to Slobodan Milošević.
Today, the world demands a robust American armed forces more than ever. In the South China Sea, China has been flexing its military muscles, as its has expanded its fleets into disputed waters. At the same time, Putin’s growing hostility towards the West has resulted in Russian intervention in Ukraine, Georgia and Syria. In the wake of these growing threats, America’s capacity to meet these challenges will be determined by the strength of its armed forces.
On its face, it would seem as if the U.S. military certainly has the resources to combat the growing threat from China and Russia. Currently, the Department of Defense operates on a budget of nearly $600 billion —which is nearly 40 percent of the total defense spending across the globe. However, some of the most important aspects of our armed forces are currently in decay. At the same time, how and where we spend our money has consistently proven to be both ineffective and wasteful.
First, and foremost, many of our defense systems are aging at a rapid pace. The Air Force currently makes use of B-52 bombers — the same bombers that were used to bomb Hanoi in the 1960s. These planes have lasted more than three generations of air force pilots, and they simply are not fit to be in service any longer. Furthermore, and perhaps most frightening, our ballistic missile systems — the same systems that carry nuclear warheads — are extremely outdated, as hundreds of missile launch sites across the nation have not been updated in decades.
At the same time, the Army is facing large cuts to the number of active duty soldiers. In a May 2016 report, the Department of the Army revealed that due to recent Department of Defense cuts, the Army currently has the lowest number of active duty soldiers since before World War II. At the same time, budgetary constraints have forced the Navy to downsize its fleets.
In spite of these troubling issues, our military embraces mass excess. Perhaps the greatest example of wasteful spending can be found in our overseas bases. The Department of Defense currently operates an eye-popping 662 bases around the globe, as US forces are stationed in 130 countries. Though many of our bases are in key areas such as Afghanistan, South Korea and Japan, many of the nations with the largest deployments of US troops are some of the most peaceful and risk-free countries on the planet. For example, there are currently 37,000 troops stationed in Germany, 12,000 in Italy, and 9,000 in the United Kingdom. Furthermore, these bases cost American taxpayers billions of dollars each year — leading many politicians and Defense officials to question why we continue to operate more bases than could ever be necessary.
Yet the excess and waste does not stop there, as poor decision making in the Pentagon has led to extreme levels of wasted resources. A recent report discovered that the US has wasted a combined $17 billion on “misguided expenditures” in Afghanistan. Furthermore, Politico discovered that the Defense Logistics Agency recently spent more than $7 billion on “unneeded equipment” — to put that in perspective, the Navy could construct two nuclear-powered supercarriers on $7 billion budget, with funds left over.
As a result of these issues, our armed forces face a troubling dichotomy. On one hand, our military does not have the necessary resources to maintain an updated and modern navy, army or air force; on the other hand, the Department of Defense wastes unimaginable sums of money on bases and projects that we do not need and can no longer afford.
If we are to meet the challenges of an increasingly dangerous world, the United States must maintain a robust and powerful military. The future of America’s military will depend on its ability to cut wasteful programs and invest in new technologies to help grow the size of our armed forces and expand our influence across the globe.
Michael Glanzel is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Cornell Shrugged appears alternate Thursdays this semester.