MINNEAPOLIS – Despite his statement that the U.S. “will have to do more with less” thanks to budget cuts across a slew of federal agencies and programs, the U.S. Department of Defense not only avoided a budget decrease, but netted a significant increase to its annual budget. The increase – 54 billion dollars – is nearly the size of the United Kingdom’s entire national defense budget and is set to put U.S. military spending over 600 billion dollars.
While the U.S. government spends more than any other nation in the world on its defense – dwarfing the military spending of other nations – Trump has touted this “historic” budget increase as being necessary in order to “rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it.”
But is the U.S. military really “depleted”? The current defense budget already supports about 2.1 million troops, 1.3 million of whom are on active duty and another 800,000 are in reserve or part of the National Guard.
However, nearly 200,000 of those troops are positioned overseas in 177 different countries, with the majority being stationed in Japan, Germany and South Korea. This presence, which has little to do with defending the U.S. and more to do with defending U.S. government and corporate interests abroad, is incredibly expensive.
In 2015, Politico estimated that the cost of maintaining the U.S.’ 800 military bases abroad – not including those in “war zones” – was approximately 100 billion dollars. By comparison, the UK, France and Russia have around 30 foreign bases combined.
While the maintenance of so many military bases abroad is undeniably costly, the cost per soldier stationed abroad has also become mind-bogglingly expensive. In Afghanistan – where the U.S. still has over 9,000 troops stationed – the cost of employing each U.S. soldier in Afghanistan was an astounding 2.1 million dollars in 2014.
While the price per soldier stationed abroad surged to unprecedented heights, other areas of the military suffered, as budget cuts were forced on other parts of the military that aren’t involved in major military operations abroad, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military leaders said these budget cuts left only two brigades out of the entire army fully trained and prepared for war. This alone seems to suggest that the United States’ foreign wars abroad represent a graver risk to national security than any number of other commonly touted national security risks.
It is entirely possible that Trump has chosen to increase the defense budget in order to cover the areas of the military that suffered under Obama-era budget cuts. However, other actions Trump has already taken suggest that he is more likely to expand the U.S.’ massive overseas presence.
For instance, Trump has expanded drone warfare, sent thousands of new troops to Iraq and Syria, and is likely to send thousands more in the coming months. These actions alone are likely to consume a large part of the Trump’s proposed budget increase – expanding the same foreign wars Trump campaigned against while concurrently working against national security.
However, Trump may have little choice, at least from his perspective. As Eric Peters, CIO of River Asset Management, noted this past week, the odds of Trump succeeding in fulfilling his domestic policy goals “are zero in the absence of starting a new war.”
With that in mind, it seems likely that this latest budget increase would not be used to replenish a depleted military, but rather to prepare for the continuation and expansion of existing conflicts abroad.