Monday, March 29, 2010

An Unconstitutional Defense Budget

My preferred method of measuring a nation's committment to its national defense is the amount it spends as a percentage of GDP.

This very interesting blurb from
Radio Netherlands Worldwide caught my eye.
Major cutbacks on defence spending would be at odds with the constitution, according to former finance minister Gerrit Zalm.

The former conservative VVD politician chaired an enquiry on the future international role of the Dutch armed forces, which presented its findings on Monday. The study is intended to form a basis for the Netherlands’ long-term defence policy.

Mr Zalm concludes that serious defence cuts would prevent the armed forces from carrying out their constitutional task of maintaining the rule of international law. Mr Zalm argues that little should change in the present nature of the Dutch armed forces. The military should stay ready for deployment in a wide range of situations, both for national defence and for overseas peacekeeping operations.

According to a survey by TNS NIPO published by de Volkskrant on Monday, supporters of the Labour Party, Green Left and the liberal D66 party see defence as a prime area for cuts.
A few things to keep in mind here.
  • A Dutch Conservative is a bit to the left of a "Scoop Jackson Democrat." Somewhere near or slightly to the left of Sen. Webb (D-VA) and Rep. Taylor (D-MS) with a bit of Sen. Graham (R-SC) thrown in. The comparison is inexact - but you get the idea.
  • The Dutch are one of the more serious nations on the Continent when it comes to national defense. Their performance in AFG and the fact that their government will fall because of the desire to extend the committment should show you that seriousness.
  • The Dutch do not have a nuclear arsenal to spend money on.
  • The USA spends ~4.1% of its GDP on national defense.
  • The Netherlands spends ~1.4% of its GDP on national defense.
The Dutch have a classic European Welfare State with an extensive presence by the government in its economy. Exceptionally high taxes (gas 3-4x what it is here), higher income taxes, a 16% VAT tax, and fees on about everything you can think of. They have a national health care system. In summary - they are now where we are heading.

Depending on how you define it - the USA defense budget in 2010 is from $533 to $663 billion. Let's round it to $600 billion to make it simple.

If we were to spend as a % of GDP what the Dutch do (34% of what we do now), our defense budget would be $204 billion.

Our shipbuilding budget is now ~$14 billion. Were we to follow the Dutch lead - our shipbuilding budget would be $4.8 billion. You can do that for the entire budget using static percentage reductions to a level of 34% of what we have now.

As we move towards a period of exceptional stress on the national budget - ponder that.

Also remember - the Left in The Netherlands thinks that 1.4% of GDP is too much. With the Left - it is always too much until some tyrant is rolling down the street near their vacation condo. No shocker there. They don't feel good about themselves nor can they buy votes for their party with silly things like national defense. That is a topic for grown-ups.

Sad - you would think the Dutch would have remembered what happened the
last time they starved their military - but their Left didn't help then either.

Anyway - back to the USA. Where would there be an issue - if any - with our defense budget from a Constitutional POV? The argument could be made that even $204 billion is too much. Could you cut it further without Constitutional problems? Sure.

Article 1 Section 8:
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;
Can you do that for $204 billion if you have the votes? Sure you can. In land forces alone, a lot of money could be saved by having a very small active duty force and a greater reliance on the National Guard. Sound familiar? Of course it does - it was the pre-WWII standard.

Could you reach a low point where you no longer could perform the Constitutional requirements? Sure - the question is where that point is reached. I think it is well south of $204 billion.

Don't think military expenditure levels and politics aren't related? Don't think military expenditure levels and macro-economics aren't related? Think again.

If you want to see what things are like when you are going someplace - ask someone who is already there. We are heading towards the Dutch model. Political and economic forces, as they are and are now trending, will force the issue more to the front with each passing year we slosh around $1 trillion in red ink for our children and grandchildren to pay.

Though I don't support a sub-$204 billion defense budget, that position is a legitimate one and a Constitutional one. It is also one that over the next 30 years you better be in a position to counter if you don't support it.



Matt Hawks said...

One important factor your analysis does not take into account is the effect of defense spending on individual Representatives and Senators.  Are they willing to see all those people in their districts/states go hungry?  What will be the substitute - a different national program for their district?  Good analysis otherwise.

cdrsalamander said...

The Dutch have members of Parliament.  Also, we used to have a significant military presence in the Bay Area  - but did that have the San Francisco contingent support the military?

To answer your question - yes they are.  Just walk around the former military bases within a 30 minute drive in San Francisco.

It has everything to do with priorities.  If it comes to funding breast cancer screening or a new aircraft carrier - what do you think?

AW1 Tim said...

This was also the national view prior to the American Civil War. The US Army, for example, had about 16,000 men and officers in all branches. When the war broke out, it was at once realized that the Regular army wasn't capable of doing it's job, and, as such, the militia were called upon along with tens of thousands of volunteers. Evbentually, conscription had to be resorted to to fill the ranks.
  As a resut,  tens of millions of dollars were spent by the federal government to wage the war, an income tax was levied to finance it, and a draft was installed to support it. More than 600,000 died in that war, with even more wounded and disabled.
   How much of that casualty rate might have been prevented by having a large professional army? An army of trained regulars rather than of green volunteers with little training might have set things straight in short order, but that's an argument for another day.

Outlaw Mike said...

<span>'supporters of the Labour Party, Green Left and the liberal D66 party see defence as a prime area for cuts.'</span>
<span>Who would have thunk it.</span>

Kristen said...

Excellent analysis.  This is the kind of thing that makes your blog so good. (Well, in addition to the silly, fun stuff.  :) ) said...

I'll bet Anne Frank wished the Dutch had spent more on defense.

ewok40k said...

No  amount of defence spending by Holland could ahve stopped 1940 Wehrmacht... that aside, defence spending is hard to calculate properly. You spend too little, you lose wars. You spend too much, you go the way Soviets did, and British empire before, and Spanish one before...

ewok40k said...

Also, since were in 1940s analogies, spend wisely... French invested fortune in the Maginot line and what good it have done to them? Brits while on tight budget invested in radar R&D and it pretty much saved their ass.

OnceAMarine said...

<span>Si vis pacem, para bellum</span>

XBradTC said...

A large professional army would have just made it tougher for the North. Take a look at how many professionals went to the South.

cdrsalamander said...

Ponder what the western front  would have been like if the Dutch could have fought an extra week - an extra two weeks. 

Would that have been enough to solidify the French and British armies?  It sure would have allowed the time needed for the French to get their forces into Belgium in more numbers.  

Dunkirk would never have happened.  You could what if it to death.  As a Pole, you should know the difference a week longer can make.  Imagine if forces had made it to Warsaw a week earlier than they did towards the end of the war.

2nd and 3rd order effects are huge.  Ponder.

Anthony Mirvish said...

The Civil War casualty total was as much due to the increasing lethality of the weaponry, and the secondary effects of disease and sanitation.  Only the fact that there was enough maneuver space in a continental battlefield relative to the size of the armies prevented it from being more like WWI.  And, as XBTc points out, most of the regular army's officer corps sided with the south.  I don't think a larger army would have prevented this, and it would have been harder to justify in the pre-war period anyway, assuming it could have been raised.  The real moral is that when you fight a truly major war against competitive enemies, you will always need a larger military than can be supported in peacetime.  So, you tailor your budget to legitimate security needs and include enough of a cushion to handle the transition to a bigger war should one arise.

Tom Mowry said...

You have to remember also that there was a longstandning fear of standing armies in the United States at the beginning of the civil war. Standing armies were seen as tools of tyranny. The states were able to meet there quotas in both the north and the south until the midpoint of the war. Even at the end of the civil war the militia model dominated. During both the Spanish American War, and the First World War the states provided the majority of the troops. Not until the Second World War and the years after did we see the rise of a large national standing army in this counrty.

Byron said...

That's a fact. An awful lot of them resigned and headed south. Robert E. Lee would have probably got the Army of the Potomac (and slowly but surely I'm changing my opinion of him.

Skippy-san said...

With all due respect-this is not a Constitutional question. 204 million or 1 trillion, both positions are legal and Constitutional. The better question to be asking is what are we getting for our defense dollar-especially with respect to fighting wars for worthless Arabs who are going to end up on the other side in the long run (witness the current Iraqi election). The real question has to be solved in the legislative and executive branch-how much is enough and when is it prudent to retrench and invest in ourselves, so as to better compete in the multi-polar world that we cannot stop from occurring.

sobersubmrnr said...

Or the Army conducting research into breast cancer instead of using their research resources to improve wound care, prosthetics, emergency medicine and other things that could save the lives of troops at war. More PC stupidity.

Old NFO said...

Any country that is not willing to defend itself deserves what it gets.  The Netherlands, France, the USA.  Europe has lived under our protection long enough.  Give them five years then fold NATO and bring our folks home.  Screw em, let them pick up their own tab.  To be honest, if Americans are stupid enough to elect Obama and the rest of the military hating Democrats, I think we need to learn that lesson ourselves.  The next leftist whiner who spouts "Oh, it's all about oil" can just stand next to a gas pump and explain why $15 a gallon gas is good for us.  If we are stupid enough to allow it, we deserve it.  We're likely to take in the a-- over the next few years because of their policies anyhow, might as well cut the military to the levels of the Dutch, so we can expand the welfare state, and see how the Russians and Chinese treat us then.  

ewok40k said...

Well, with Russias armored might rusting away, you might just as well fold most of the Western Europe presence, otherwise they will see you as protection racket (more of threat itself than a protection, and demanding money). We will welcome you gladly in Poland where even a rusting Bear is still quite a perceived threat. Chinese are certainly getting more powerful, but they are obviously local power for a foreseeable future. S.Korea, Japan, and Taiwan all have decent armed forces, and going home might end up with some or all of them going nuke-power Israeli style. IMHO bad thing, so better stick there. As for the Middle East, get independent of oil and get away from there. Israel can defend itself perfectly with enough material aid, and the rest isn't exactly worth fighting for.

Theodore said...

Salamander, the Dutch could have fought on, easily for a few days more, a week perhaps, two weeks maybe, but the end would have been the same, at the cost of more destruction and civilian lives, BUT that wouldn't have stopped, or delayed significantly, the German invasion of Belgium. If an expeditiory force to attack Germany from the Holland Peninsula had been on its way, things would have been different.

Theodore said...

Zalm Conservative? Sorry CDR, that's not true, the guy is as liberal as they come (classic old fashioned  liberal, that is). In the Netherlands there are no conservatives, there are three main ideologies in Dutch politics: Socialism, Liberalism and Christianity, they are all progressive, but go in different directions. Zalm´s VVD is the party giving us the recent Dutch rightwing nuts, like Fortuyn and Wilders. In the European parliament the smaller of the two Christian parties governing the Netherlands shares its group with the British conservatives, though it tends to be leftwing when it comes to economical issues, but the economy is not everything.  

Theodore said...

CdrSalamander, an important difference is that the Dutch members of Parliament do not have districts or states, they have been elected directly or by electors (senate) by the people from the country to serve the country, not a geographical part of it. So they can more easily hurt the interests of, say, Amsterdam in the interest of the country. 

MR T's Haircut said...

umm Phib, you cant pay for the military when you are beholden to entitlements... silly sally....

Take Mobile Alabama for instance.. they are in a current budget crisis.. their immediate solution?  Reduce Fire and Police salary's by 5-20 percent...really?  hmm wonder of the welfare folks are going to take a similiar reduction?

this is what has happened in Britain also.. cant spend on a military if everyone is on welfare.. including your enemy...

cdrsalamander said...

"<span>silly sally<span>"</span></span>
- Gee MTH - first Ricky Martin, and now you?

cdrsalamander said...

You are changing the subject.  The issues in this comment thread would be the ability of the Dutch to fight longer if their military had not been starved to death until the last minute - not if they had fought longer with what they had.  I have covered the fact that the Dutch actually did much better than they should have (Battle of The Hague as an example) given the condition of their military.

If the Dutch were better prepared than they were AND as a result would have fought longer and required significantly more German forces to defeat them - it WOULD have made a huge difference on the Western Front.  Full stop.

Would I have traded 2 Dutch deaths in 1940 for 2 Dutch, 2 Belgian, 2 French, 3 British, 4 American, 1 Canadian, 1 Pole, and 5 German lives from 1941-45.  Sure - how about you?

Theodore said...

Oh I would have made that trade too, (you make it a hard deal with including the French and the German ones), but any amount of money used for anything which could not have stopped bombers (anti-aircraft guns &ammo, fighter planes, would, in my opinion, not have made a difference at all for the time the Dutch fought. They could have killed more Germans, yes. On the other hand, the Netherlands tried to stay neutral, and arming up a lot (AND concentrating THAT in the small European part of the territory under Dutch flag), would have made it harder to seem neutral to the warring parties, which is of course an excuse not applying to any NATO-country now.  

cdrsalamander said...

Look what passive neutrality got them.  Lesson learned, point made.

ewok40k said...

Not much difference, it would be, because main thrust of Panzer divisions went thru Luxembourg and southern Belgium - northern France. In fact , Dutch holding on was the bait for the BEF and French to advance into the trap set by Manstein. What could have changed way the situation ended, was French and Brits coordinating counterattacks to cut off the Panzer thrust. 
That aside of course if Dutch had spent more on defence, they could have killed more Germans, which would mean less of them to kill later by other allies.But it would not be a huge difference, even if they doubled German casualties it would not be a single division less in a 100+ division Wehrmacht of 1940.
And of course whole thing would not matter ifthe  French moved their collective assess from the Maginot line when Hitler sent 3/4 of the Wehrmacht including all Panzer divisions to conquer Poland in 1939.

MR T's Haircut said...

I sure missed Ricky Martin!  My I&W needs some works.. never saw that coming.. nope! Not even once suspected that.. next we will be told George Michael and Elton are also playing for that team..

Casey Tompkins said...

Anthony, I'd like to see a couple of references that "most" of the officers went south. Certainly a sizable number did. Recall also that many Southern officers remained loyal to the North; notably Southerners David Farragut, Winfield Scott, and George Thomas. Also, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, Farragut never said "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" What he actually said was <blockquote>Damn the torpedoes! Four bells! Captain Crayton, go ahead! Joucett, full speed!</blockquote>

As for the utility of a larger standing army; perhaps. And perhaps not. One of the worst mistakes made by the North was in keeping the Regular Army separate from the newer militia units, instead of using the Regulars as cadre.

One of the other issues not yet addressed is that Lincoln was forced to allow widespread state interference with the War Department, as he desperately needed the political support of a very large number of groups & individuals throughout the North. I cite General Butler in evidence. It wasn't until after the 1864 election that the President felt strong enough to start dismissing the politically-connected incompetents he was forced to tolerate during his first administration.

...Which segues back to Phib's original point, that many areas in this country tend to prefer local advantage over national security.