Some Pentagon spending actually harms our national security

Meanwhile, the federal government is quickly approaching the debt limit; Treasury Secretary Jack Lew estimates that the U.S. will hit that limit no later than October 17th.  Raising the limit is essential to allow payment for expenditures the Congress has already made.

Moody’s economist, Mark Zandi, made the reality of the debt ceiling very clear to a House panel: “You need to raise the debt limit. There's no other option…. Otherwise, it's disastrous. It's counterproductive to your own goals because it's going to result in a recession, bigger deficits and [it will] raise the debt.”

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While we must meet our previous financial commitments, we also must take sensible measures to minimize increases in the national debt which not only threaten our economic security and the fragile economic recovery, but also our national security.

In 2008, a National Intelligence Estimate declared that the economic crisis, not terrorism, was the greatest threat to national security. That view was backed by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral. Mike Mullin, who stated in 2010 that “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt.” And things have only gotten worse since then.

Pentagon spending makes up more than half of U.S. discretionary spending, and that percentage has not decreased significantly in recent decades, even with the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the fact that our country faces a new host of national security threats, Pentagon spending remains locked in the outdated demands of the 20th century Cold War.

Our security is no longer based principally on matching the Soviet Union bomb-for-bomb or on a massive force structure of tanks, planes and ships.  Neither of these is effective at deflecting a Chinese cyber attack or a terrorist plot in Nairobi.

The fundamental problems are an outdated strategy, misallocation of resources, and wasteful expenditures on projects that do not enhance security.

One of the most glaring examples of Cold War thinking is the $700 billion estimated to be spent on nuclear weapons over the next decade on the bloated nuclear weapons complex. Former Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former U.S. Strategic Forces Commander, General James Cartwright has observed that our nuclear stockpile is “beyond our needs. What is it we're really trying to deter? Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century.”

Another project that is costing billions of taxpayer dollars and increasing the deficit is the excessively expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, slated to cost $1.5 trillion over its lifetime, even though our air superiority remains unchallenged without its development. To date, the development of this plane has cost more than the U.S. government has spent on veterans in the last two decades.

Yes, we need a strong military and yes a strong military is not cheap; but the Pentagon should not get a blank check. Many years of pouring money from federal coffers into unnecessary defense programs has not increased security. It has, rather, contributed significantly to our federal deficit and retarded the current economic recovery; and we must not permit the military-industrial-Congressional complex to continue pushing us down this path.

Instead of engaging in political gamesmanship to raise the debt ceiling or enacting periodic government shutdowns, we should be focused on eliminating waste and allocating government expenditures more efficiently. Unnecessary defense spending that detracts from security instead of improving it is at the top of the list.

Gard is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and former president of National Defense University.