By Juliet Lucas

Is maintaining the security of our country worth exceeding the largest defense budget in human history?

The United States defense budget currently surpasses that of the next nine powerful countries in the world, including Russia, India, and the UK. Our closest competitor, China, spends about $215 billion on defense. That might seem like a lot, but it is nothing compared to our defense budget for the upcoming fiscal year of 2020, which is projected to rise to $750 billion. This would be the largest defense budget in history.

Despite the shock of this staggering cost, our defense budget is vital to ensure a stable country. Providing for the defense of our nation is a primary function of the federal government, and it is imperative that our military have the resources it needs.

Where does our military spending go?

First, to understand the necessity of our large defense budget, we need to see where the taxpayers’ dollars are actually going, and what the projected $750 billion budget will cover. The budget can be broken down into four categories; the Department of Defense, oversees activity, homeland security, and functioning agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Energy, and the State Department.

The Department of Defense’s base budget, rising from $410.6 billion to $574.5 billion in just over ten years, is used to purchase military equipment and ensure contractors working with the Department of Defense get paid.

These funds are allocated further. Over $290 billion is given to operations and maintenance, and $100 billion goes toward research, testing, and development. Other funds are given to separate departments such as Veterans Affairs and the State Department. Such operations are necessary to ensure stable military operations, development initiatives, and technological advancement within the Department of Defense and the Pentagon.

Investing in the well-being of our soldiers

A large factor contributing to the rise in military spending is the wide range of benefit plans included for military personal. As medical technology becomes more advanced, the costs of healthcare plans are rising for both civilians and the military. A little over ten years ago, the cost of maintaining a soldier’s pay and benefits was around $70,000. Today, that number reaches over $110,000. These costs are necessary to maintain the health and well-being of military personal, especially in such a physically and mentally demanding profession.

In order to have a strong national defense, we need to invest in the health of our soldiers. This is not an unnecessary cost. These funds are a valuable part of our nation’s defense budget, and it is a necessary investment justifying the high cost of our military.

Establishing our global image and international presence

The United States doesn’t just spend billions of dollars on domestic security. We also invest resources into foreign areas. Since WWII, the U.S. military has engaged in a strategy of deterrence by increasing our military access in areas like Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In fact, the U.S. has spent roughly 2 trillion dollars to fight threats like terrorist groups in the Middle East since 2001. The budget for Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, is separate funding used for overseas wartime activities, projected to have a budget of $174 billion in 2020.

The presence of the U.S. military lowers the cost of spending for our allies. Our soldiers, tackling threats in hot-spot engagements in foreign countries, serve as an assurance to our allies, and is significant in shaping the perceptions and calculations of our enemies.  In fact, many experts consider our worldwide visual presence to be just as important in military strategy as actual warfighting ability.

The reason the United States’ defense budget is significantly larger than any other country is because our budget includes support against shared enemies, such as powerful terrorist groups. Our allies do not spend less on their military simply because they are better at managing their funds. This difference exists due to the wide presence of the American military, which allows these foreign territories to maintain a lower defense budget.

While it might be true that decreasing our foreign presence would decrease the military spending allocated to Overseas Contingency Operations, removing American military personnel from where they have maintained a stable fighting presence for years could prove disastrous for those countries. Our international presence is a necessary part of stabilizing many foreign regions and establishing a strong global image. If anything should be done to lower our international costs, it should be to encourage our allies to dedicate more of their own funds, reducing the brunt of the load America has to carry as the “policemen of the globe.”

Investing in ourselves

Ironically, foreign nations are often more familiar with our military than our own people. Not many Americans recognize or understand the full scope of the American military. Therefore, when average citizens see the several zeroes behind our constantly increasing military budget, it is hard to understand how exactly that money is spent and for what.

A first step to understanding the extent of our military is to recognize the value of where our tax dollars are spent. Recognizing the need for a high defense budget starts with understanding the importance of investing in the security of our country. Without our brave soldiers defending our basic freedoms, all of the other issues taxpayers allocate funds for would become irrelevant.

Our Constitution calls for national defense

Some argue that our taxpayer dollars should be directed to federal welfare programs instead. However, national defense is actually a specific responsibly of the federal government, while social welfare programs are not. The federal government should not expend more effort on welfare programs because these are better managed at state and local levels. Rather, the federal government should be concerned with maintaining a secure country within which American citizens can continue to innovate, grow, and nurture progress.

Defense is not only the primary function of the federal government; it is their only mandatory function. The U.S. Constitution lists seventeen separate powers which belong exclusively to Congress, and six of those deal directly with national defense.  Article Four, Section Four, of the Constitution states that the United States “Shall guarantee to every state in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against invasion.” National security is not only a job allocated to the federal government, it is a guarantee.

Could we spend less?

The tasks of the United States military are varied across our nation and the globe, and are all essential to our safety. National defense needs to be a priority. Increased health costs, maintenance costs, and foreign threats are all necessary. The American military does not waste billions of taxpayer dollars merely giving federal employees a pay raise, and foreign countries do not manage their defense spending better. Our high defense exists due to both rising costs and deterrence operations overseas.

We cannot cut our domestic funds or pull out of established bases overseas. These funds and operations are necessary for the stability of our military and global presence. Instead, we should encourage our allies to offer more resources to help fight insurgent groups and take responsibility for the threats within their borders. American soldiers fight to defend not only our citizens, but also to aid in securing freedom for many of our allies.