By Dmitry Orlov and cross-posted from Club Orlov
One often hears of the fact that the US spends more on its military than most other nations combined. This is usually presented as evidence that the US is more powerful militarily—perhaps so powerful that it could take on the rest of the planet, and prevail. I find this attitude highly questionable. If we look at what sort of “defense” the US actually spends money on, and what it gets in return in terms of military capabilities, an entirely different picture emerges: of a corruption-riddled blundering leviathan that is thwarting its own purpose at every turn.
To start with, assessing relative military strength based on relative levels of military spending is a lot like betting on a race horse based on how much the horse eats. Sure, horses have to eat, but a horse that eats ten times more than all the other horses is probably not going to come out ahead because there is something seriously wrong with it.
Then consider the fact that a dollar spent on the US military in the US is not directly comparable to a dollar’s worth of rubles or yuan spent on in Russia or China; in terms of purchasing parity, the ratios can be 5 to 1, or even 10 to 1. If Russia gets 10 times the bang for the buck, there goes the assumption of supposed US military superiority based on how much the US military eats.
Also, let’s not lose track of the fact that the US military has different objectives from the rest of the world’s militaries: its goal is primarily offensive rather than defensive. The US military strives to dominate and subjugate the entire planet; everyone else simply tries to defend their territory, while a few countries also try to thwart the US military in its ambition to dominate and subjugate the entire planet.
In general, if the objective is unrealistic, it doesn’t matter how much money is wasted in trying to achieve it. More specifically, it’s a lot cheaper to break something than to make something work, and the US military, no matter how much money is spent on it, remains quite cheap to neutralize. For instance, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier costs somewhere around $5 billion, while a Russian Kaliber missile that can be launched from a fishing boat from 1200 km away and destroy it is competitively priced at $1.2 million apiece. To put these numbers in perspective, Russia can wipe out the entire US aircraft carrier fleet without exceeding its military training budget for the year.
But all of this matters only if the US actually spends money in trying to achieve some actual military objective. If the US military establishment mostly wastes its money on vanity projects and expensive technological albatrosses, then none of this matters at all, and this may very well be the case. Just look at what the US actually spends its defense dollars on:
• It spends it on military bases around the world—hundreds of them. What purpose do they serve? What does their presence achieve? Nobody knows. It’s all part of US military “activity”: assessing and responding to “threats,” most of which are purely theoretical. It seems to have an irrational compulsion to not leave any spots on the planet without a US military base. This is mostly just a waste of resources.
• It spends it on a bunch of aircraft carrier groups. These are very useful for launching attacks on defenseless countries. But it is very important to keep these aircraft carriers outside of conflict zones that may involve China or Russia, or even Iran, because each of these countries has several cost-effective ways to destroy an aircraft carrier: ballistic missiles, supersonic cruise missiles and supersonic torpedoes. The entire aircraft carrier fleet is obsolete, and is another huge waste of money.
• It spends it on the Aegis integrated naval combat system, which is considered state-of-the-art and has been installed on a number of cruisers and destroyers. There is just one problem: it is trivial to shut down, as Russia has demonstrated. A jet fighter equipped with a basket of electronic countermeasures equipment called Khibiny was used to shut down Aegis. The jet (which was otherwise unarmed) then performed a dozen bombing runs on the defenseless US navy vessel.
• It spends it on disastrous development programs of various kinds. A classic example is Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. “Star Wars”: it never resulted in anything strategically useful. Another good example is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which cost over a trillion dollars to develop. It is supposed to be useful for a lot of different missions, but has turned out to be ineffective for all of them.
This list can be continued virtually ad infinitum, but just these examples make clear a basic principle: spending money on things that don’t work does not make the US any stronger militarily…