« Pass The Popcorn | Main | Time To Worry About Giuliani »

November 10, 2007

Priorities and Real Money

by Nicholas Beaudrot of Electoral Math

Update: Okay, now I have to call for reinforcements. Someone has brought up the apocryphal "sea war with China" scenario, and I'm having trouble marshalling evidence to articulate just how many decades it would take China to catch up to American naval capability. Where's Robert Farley when you need him.

I believe this pie chart shows the relative levels of discretionary spending in the federal budget. Unsurprisingly, the defense budget dwarfs all other spending by a large margin. Since all of the various health care plans cost quite a lot of money, this means that any substantial boost in health care spending or deficit reduction will require cutting the defense budget.

In a perfect world, you could do this by revisiting the ratio of Army/Navy/Air Force spending that has endured since the Cold War. No one really questions America's naval or air superiority, and there aren't any competitors on the horizon, especially when it comes to the Navy. But in the world we live in, that's probably not possible. Still, it's worth going back to the armed forces and forcing them to decide which of the next-gen weapon systems are truly needed, and which are simply nice to have.

The band of dirty hippies that produced this chart, the Caucus for Priorities, recently endorsed John Edwards. In his foreign policy speeches, Edwards has been invoking Everyone's Favorite President To Invoke—Harry Truman—and proposes a Truman Committee-esque effort to separate the nation's defense priorities from those of defense contractors. I have no sense of how these various organizational endorsements play out, but it certainly sounds like C4P's 10,000 members are already caucus regulars, and that the group will work like hell to get them to the polls.

Photo by Flickr user desmoinesdem used under the Creative Commons license

—Signed, not Ezra Klein

November 10, 2007 | Permalink


Sorry, tiny thing: "Priorites" should be "Priorities". Unless there's some sort of monk joke hidden in there that I missed.

Posted by: El Cid | Nov 10, 2007 1:16:17 PM

The mention of defense priorities reminds me of the McNamara Revolution, named for Robert McNamara, SecDef under Kennedy and Johnson. The McNamara Revolution brought the new concept of systems analysis to the Pentagon in the early 1960's

Secretary McNamara's first major reform was to revise the Defense Department's budget to reflect the military missions for which it was responsible. (What a concept!) Nine "Program Packages" were designed: Strategic Retaliatory Forces, Continental Air and Missile Defense Forces, General Purpose Forces, Airlift/Sealift Forces, Reserve and Guard Forces, Research and Development, General Support, Civil Defense and Military Assistance.

These military missions must be related to the national security strategy. The force design of the current 2007 strategy, which was slightly modified from an earlier version after the 9/11 attacks, is “1-4-2-1.” The first “1” means the military must be prepared to defend the U.S. homeland. The “4” stands for the ability to deter hostilities and counter aggression in four regions of the world. The “2” means it must be capable of swiftly defeating two adversaries in overlapping military campaigns. The final “1” stands for the capability to win one of the two campaigns decisively (I guess we'll win the other one non-decisively) while also engaging simultaneously in the other hostilities.

When the military (and HRC) says that the military must not only be sustained but expanded, as is the current plan, it is based on the national strategy.

Any meaningful discussion of defense spending should be conducted within the framework of national strategy and Pentagon programs.

Personally, I'd go with homeland defense and nothing else, but in a time of American exceptionalism and militarism, and the "Islamofascist threat", that's not a popular position.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Nov 10, 2007 1:50:07 PM

Call me a radical but we should just close most foreign bases and end useless weapons programs. I don't think we should be an empire or the world police force. The world can handle itself absent our empire and righteous war machine.

Posted by: Kazumatan | Nov 10, 2007 1:52:26 PM

"No one really questions America's naval or air superiority, and there aren't any competitors on the horizon, especially when it comes to the Navy."

There's a little country in the far east you should read up on called China. During the Clinton presidency they made some amazing leaps in technology. They got great return on their PAC money.

Their Navy is a huge threat, unless your looking to become communist in which case there is nothing to worry about.

Posted by: Nate Ogden | Nov 10, 2007 2:39:32 PM

Kazumatan, I agree your idea worked great during WWII, lets give it another go.

Posted by: Nate Ogden | Nov 10, 2007 2:41:50 PM

The Chinese navy is a huge threat? I thought we could sink it easily with our air power.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Nov 10, 2007 2:57:03 PM

Nate Ogden; "Their [China's] Navy is a huge threat. . ." No. The Chinese navy is not a threat to the USA. ". . .unless your looking to become communist in which case there is nothing to worry about." How might this work, exactly, their Navy making us communist?

Donald Rumsfeld, testifying in support of the Defense Department’s 2007 fiscal year budget request: "There aren't big air forces or big navies or big armies that are contesting us. What we're facing is terrorism and asymmetric attacks of various types."

Robert Gates, during his recent visit to China: "I had a good meeting with President Hu. We talked a good deal about the military-to-military relationship. He indicated his support for moving forward on a dialogue on strategic military matters of concern to both sides. And we also spent a fair amount of time on Taiwan. It was very productive meeting, very cordial. I think it was quite constructive." Gates doesn't sound threatened to me. Or possibly he converted to communism?

Posted by: Don Bacon | Nov 10, 2007 3:02:17 PM

So your a firm believer of everything Rumsfeld says? Didn't Clinton have a great meeting with N. Korea about nukes, right before they developed nukes? After WWII didn't we have great meetings with Stalin on how to divide Europe? Didn't we have the war in Iraq in hand before they figured out how effective an IED can be?

We have the greatest military in the world, below the rank of captain. Our politicans and to many of our generals, who are more politican then military, are idiots. They constantly misjudge our enemies or hide the truth for political reasons.

If you want to base your security on Rumsfeld go ahead.

Posted by: NateO | Nov 10, 2007 3:21:16 PM

Get out your pith helmets, NateO is taking this thread south.

Posted by: serial catowner | Nov 10, 2007 3:34:45 PM

Their Navy is a huge threat, …. Nate Ogden Nov 10, 2007 2:39:32 PM
With no aircraft carriers, their navy is can project all the way to Taiwan, but it is primarily a defensive force.

The PLAN initially utilized Soviet-based hardware as the backbone of their forces, with increasing domestic production over time. In the last several years, the PRC has made progress in modernizing its fleet with the purchase of Sovremenny class destroyers and Kilo class submarines, as well as producing sophisticated domestic designs such as the Lanzhou class destroyers and the Yuan class submarines. The Sovremenny class destroyers were equipped with the SS-N-22 anti-ship missile.
China's submarine fleet has also made advances. The Song and Yuan-class subs are quieter than their predecessors and the Kilo-class subs are equipped with two next-generation weapons: the Klub anti-ship cruise missile and the VA-111 Shkval torpedo. Many Chinese submarines, including the Kilo, are also thought to have air-independent propulsion, which would allow them to remain submerged for longer periods of time than they could previously maintain.
Chinese naval production has improved, in part due to Russian assistance. Its latest destroyers use more local hardware of an improved quality, such as better fire-control systems and stealth technology in their hull designs to reduce their radar profile, and C4I systems.
However, despite these advances, China's newer vessels are still outnumbered by older ones that it has to keep in service out of necessity. Thus the PLAN still lags behind other navies in the region such as the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Republic of Korea Navy in terms of overall unit quality….

You may be seeing Commies under your bed, but they aren't from the Chinese Navy.

Posted by: Mike | Nov 10, 2007 4:29:28 PM

That pie chart is everywhere in Iowa. Cars, billboards, front yards, everywhere.

Posted by: Trevor | Nov 10, 2007 4:49:18 PM

Lets see ... the Chinese Navy is a tremendous threat, despite being outmatched by the Japanese and Korean Navies.

That makes it sound like we need to build up to protect against the threat from those Japanese and Koreans. And don't forget the Brits ... they may not have large carriers, but they've got jump jet carriers.

Posted by: BruceMcF | Nov 10, 2007 5:12:34 PM

There is always gonna be some fool or tool, more likely, to 'defend' the vast octopus of the MIC which is strangling our economy slowly but surely.

Ever hear of 'lost opportunity costs' there Mr. 'The Big Bad Chinese are Gonna Git Us?'.

Didn't think so.

Here's one of my posts on this: Military Keynesianism: What is that and why should I care?

Posted by: A.Citizen | Nov 10, 2007 6:15:21 PM

So your a firm believer of everything Rumsfeld says?

Oh Nate, you imbecile, don't you understand that one can believe Rumsfeld's assessment of Chinese naval capacity without believing everything he says?

If you want to base your security on Rumsfeld go ahead.

As horrifically bad as Rumsfeld has been, I would "base my security" (whatever that means) on him before I would trust your assessment of national security priorities.

You truly are evil. You've just gotten me to defend Rumsfeld. Please stop polluting this blog.

Posted by: DMonteith | Nov 10, 2007 6:35:36 PM

If China could project power then Taiwan wouldn't be independent. The only way their military - any branch - could be a threat to us is if we invade. But even then there is no way for them to threaten actual US territory.

We'd save a fair amount of money if Senators and Representatives would quit forcing the military to purchase systems and equipment they do not want, a practice sadly untertaken by members of both parties.

It's hugely wasteful and a dangerous misappropriation of US military priorities and funds. If ever we get back to abiding by the Constitution I'd like to see some serious pressure put on Congress to stop the practice.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 10, 2007 6:42:59 PM

I'm afraid that it has become impossible to wean congress-critters off of the big bucks that come in to nearly every congressional district for military bases and military procurement. Sure, the US doesn't need all this expensive hardware and all these installations when the USA is not threatened by any military force in the world today, but jobs and corporate welfare in each and every district can't be jeopardized and must be supported if reps are to be re-elected. Military spending is a narcotic. There isn't even any serious debate in the Congress about the obscene Pentagon budget or about a 'peace dividend'. In fact the congress-critters add on more to the annual $500 billion ($1600 per American man, woman and child) Pentagon request in the form of earmarks for military pork projects.

And that doesn't count the cost of the wars. What good is all this men and material if it isn't used?

While Americans get stiffed in crowded airports, Europeans and Asians ride in super-fast trains. While energy-efficient vehicles and all sorts of commercial machines are produced in other countries, US engineers and factories specialize in the design and production of the latest high-tech killing machines. It's the American way.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Nov 10, 2007 7:10:02 PM

How can you possibly argue with something cut and pasted from Wikipedia. The data appears a little stale though.

Imbeciles like DMonteith have this very defined liberal ignorance where they can't see two steps ahead only what was read to them. I'm not concerned about what they got from the Russians, What worries me is the technology they steal from us.


China's military put its new guided missile destroyers on display last week, disclosing its two new warships that are equipped with Aegis-type battle management systems.

U.S. intelligence officials say China stole the technology for the Aegis battle management system by setting up a front company in the United States that became a subcontractor for the Aegis system manufacturer.

The four warships are part of China's military buildup that U.S. officials say is designed for more than just a Taiwan conflict. The Chinese are building a deep-water navy able to project power, especially against the United States.

If I'm going to go to war with someone I want to be 3,4, or more generations ahead of them in technology. I don't want to fight someone that's even close to being an equal. 10 years ago our coast guard probably could have taken on the Chinese Navy. Today their numbers are close to our Pacific Fleet. 10 years from now they will greatly outnumber our Pacific Fleet.

Rumsfeld seems concerned about their growth, or is this one opinion of his you choose to ignore?


A Pentagon report last month said China was spending two to three times more on a major military buildup than the US$35 billion a year it has publicly acknowledged.

The report concluded that while Taiwan appears to be the near-term focus of China's military spending, the buildup poses a potential threat to the United States over the longer term.

So apparently Ezra and his band of merry commentors know more about the threat from China then the Pentagon now?

Why address a potential threat when you can wait till it's an immanent threat. Japan wasn't a threat till they bombed Pearl Harbor right?

Oh Mike by the way here come the Chinese Aircraft carriers.


November 5, 2007: The Taiwanese military are taking seriously reports of China building aircraft carriers.


A photograph anonymously posted on the Internet has provided Western analysts with a first close-quarters look at the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy's (PLAN's) new Type 094 Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN).
Japan has 59 Destroyers and frigates, the third largest amount after the U.S. and China.

The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet began a visit to China on Monday in a trip aimed at strengthening ties between the two navies and gaining insight into the Asian power's military buildup. He also told reporters he "really would like to know what the intent is in some of the developments" he's seen in the navy of the 2.3 million strong People's Liberation Army, the world's largest. Those include an expanding submarine fleet and procurement of ships that can operate far beyond China's shores, he said.

Posted by: NateO | Nov 10, 2007 10:23:00 PM

"The buildup poses a potential threat to the United States over the longer term" in a country that has never been an expansionist military one, and for the foreseeable future, doesn't need to be?

China is currently besting the USA economically. While the US bleeds in Middle Eastern sands, maintains 700 bases in foreign countries, builds and operates eight expensive nuclear carrier groups and borrows money (much of it from China) like a drunken sailor, China has a policy of non-interference and constructive support. This has enabled China to extend its influence extensively, particularly in Africa and Latin America. China operates the Panama Canal.

There are many components to national power, the military being only one. China goes with diplomacy and economic investment, not war and destruction. Aircraft carriers are obsolete, but China might build one or two only because they are symbols of a great power. It's a 'face' thing. They know where the real power lies, and it isn't in the Aegis battle management system. In fact, their guided missiles employed in overwhelming swarming tactics make short work of Aegis.

Checked the label lately on your laptop? Eleven per cent annual economic growth in China, while the dollar is tanking. Twenty new cities every year. In ten or fifteen years China will be the top automotive producer in the world. Taiwan will eventually return to China. Patience is a virtue (unless the Taiwanese declare their independence). It's what you might call the 'new reality'--we'd better learn to live with it.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Nov 10, 2007 11:00:19 PM

A Pentagon report last month said China was spending two to three times more on a major military buildup than the US$35 billion a year it has publicly acknowledged.

Wow, that's like $105 billion on the high side, which is still less than half of what we paid China for its goods in 2006. In fact, it's less than half of our 2006 trade deficit with China.

I think that the Chinese leadership is well aware of how much value the US represents to them as a trading partner/debtor nation as opposed to some vassal state. Every decision being made in Beijing is based upon economic considerations, including whatever they may be spending on their military.

As far as knowing better than Rumsfeld and/or the Pentagon, well, under the Bush Administration they've made it pretty clear that they don't really care about anything other than their pre-made plans for world domination. People who try to present "facts" and "reality" to the political appointees in charge find themselves marginalized at best and most likely out on their asses.

I still remember all the bullshit we were told about the ubelievably powerful Soviet military. More importantly, China's leaders remember all that bullshit too, and probably aren't going to make the mistakes that the Soviets did on that score.

China is a threat, but not militarily. They've insinuated themselves into the American economy to a frightening degree, and of course there's just the simple safety risk we all take every time we expose ourselves to apparently anything that's made in China.

Unfortunately, people like you, consumed with their delusions about China's military, will only make it harder to address the real dangers of importing so much of our food and so many of our goods from a nation that so fully and enthusiastically embraces a capitalist economic system: no safety regulations, no government oversight, no accountability other than Magic Market Pixie Dust sprinkled on all the lead toys and melamine-infused food by the invisible hand of the free market.

Posted by: Stephen | Nov 10, 2007 11:39:26 PM

If you believe that China may be a military threat to the United States in the future then the logical thing for the United States to do would be to build up its economy and its educational system so it will be better able to deal with any possible future threat. It should also work on building alliances. If the U.S. builds up its forces now against a threat that doesn't currently exist it will be a drag on the economy and the armaments will be outdated by the time a threat might materialize. The United States could become like Italy, which entered World War II with a weak economy and outdated ships and biplanes.

But as an outsider I don't see why there is any reason there should be animosity between the United States and China. Both Americans and Chinese are hard to understand, eat too much greasy food, love capitalism and are interested in making a better life for themselves and their children. When you consider that their concerns about terrorism dovetail there is a lot of ground for cooperation between them. I see no reason why China and the United States can't have a relationship similar to that of Britain and the U.S. That relationship got off to a rocky start, but they became firm allies in a mutually supportive relationship.

Posted by: Ronald Brak | Nov 10, 2007 11:56:13 PM

American exceptionalism seems to require that the US have appointed enemies. One reason is to justify the huge corporate-welfare Pentagon budget, the subjext of this thread. There have been a series of US enemies. Currently, besides the ones we're militarily engaged with, Iran heads the list. There's no reason that we couldn't get along with Iran, but there you go.

China, as with NateO, is the natural long-term US enemy. The US has always had a hate relationship with the Chinese, going back to the Chinese Exclusion Laws. They were fine for building our railroads, but you couldn't marry one of them.

The US has tried to isolate China by forging ties with countries on its periphery. Japan heads the list--the US is now promoting UN membership for Japan as a reward for Japan not getting too close to China. This won't work--there are strong economic ties between the number two and three world economic powers, and they get stronger all the time. Same with South Korea.

China is merely amused at the US acting like the predominate world power. Bush crudely insulted President Hu several times when Hu visited Washington, and Washington makes demands on China regarding human rights and finances. China is so amused at these, considering Gitmo and abu Ghraib, and the fact that China is a principal US banker. You shouldn't insult your banker!

Supposedly the USSR vanished because it spent itself into oblivion. The US national debt is now $9 trillion, the dollar is sinking and countries are beginning to bail on the dollar. How ironic. We'll be Rapture-Ready soon, and earmarks won't matter.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Nov 11, 2007 1:59:07 AM

Why address a potential threat when you can wait till it's an immanent threat.

Yeah, that worked so well in Iraq...let's try it in China now! There's only 950 million more people there, it'll be a cakewalk! Shock and awe baby, shock and awe! Hey, now that I think about it, India is also a "potential" threat in the future. Better start thinking about a war there now too. And hey, isn't the Euro worth like almost $1.50 now? That's "potentially" threatening. We better start bombing them soon. And you know what? Domestic opponents to endless stupid wars form a threat to our commitment to waging endless stupid wars! Better round them up now, cause, y'know, the potential is there.

Besides, the word you're looking for is imminent, with two freaking i's, you functional illiterate. Immanent is totally different word. Look it up. If I'm going to go to war with someone I want to be 3,4, or more generations ahead of them in technology. Fortunately, you won't be going to war with anyone (though I'm sure they could use you in Iraq), but if you were, I would suggest you start by trying to have a vocabulary within 3 or four orders of magnitude first. It won't help anymore than our 3-4 generations of technology do with fourth generation warfare, COIN and IED's, but at least you won't sound so stupid. Anyway, once you're up to speed with English then you can go off to your dreams of incipient war with China. Don't forget the paper towels...

And, by the way, wouldn't the fact that we could turn China into a radioactive parking lot a hundred times over offset any "threatening" capabilities that China may develop? It was good enough to defeat the Soviets after all, and their erstwhile capabilities make China look like Madagascar.

Posted by: DMonteith | Nov 11, 2007 2:22:35 AM

A strong Navy effects matters besides full blown war. China gets in a phony tissy with say Saudi Araba and implements a blockade. Are we going to nuke China over a diplomatic disbute? The resulting shortage of oil would obviously have huge impact on our economy. That's the problem with people like you, unless you have read it or watched it on the news your simple mind is incapable of seeing long term consiquences. To further compound the problem all you read is ultra liberal drabble, and dictionaries apparently, so your clueless.

Probably the greatest threat from Iran is not any military strike on us directly but a blockade of the shipping lanes. Iran has enough of a navy to acomplish that, for few months. With a formible Navy China could bring world trade to a halt.

No one ever said China could stand toe to toe and beat us in a naval fight. But they are a threat. With as many subs as they now have and the Aegis system they could reack havoc on the world economy. How many cargo ships would have to be sunk or for how many months would they have to block the shipping lanes to do long term damage?

Your first responce is they would never do it becuase it would hurt them. What happens if we ever get serious about the trade imbalance? It's ridiculs we allow that much inbalance to continue. We should have taken serious action years ago. Sooner or later we will have to take action, how do you expect China to respond, say sorry for the years of abuse and give up their gravy train?

The same Liberals that don't hesitate to claim China would dump the dollar in mass to wreck our economy can't fathom they would use their navy to do it?

DMontheith, congrats on being the bestest speller and grammer geek commenting. I rather be able to have an original thought and think for myself then brag about my memory. So you can spell better and you memorized the dictionary, that makes you just so what's the word, worthless. If I cared enough to use it I could spell and grammer check. No software available today can help your limitied intelligence.

Posted by: Nate O | Nov 11, 2007 3:23:31 AM

Even while the USSR existed the American foriegn policy was a bit of a scam but not it is a Complete scam.

“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety, by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
HL Mencken

Posted by: Floccina | Nov 11, 2007 8:47:26 AM

The military/naval budget of China, combined with the military/naval budget of every other non-US country in the world is less than the US military/naval budget. How, then, is China going to outbuild us in naval construction?

Posted by: rea | Nov 11, 2007 9:58:24 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.