It is often said that wars start off being fought like the last war. Our large, conventional military is a perfect example of a military prepared to fight the threats of the past. We definitely need a strong defense, but against the threats of today and tomorrow.

Our 2017 defense budget is $584 billion, with both the president and the House of Representatives wanting to significantly raise that for 2018. To put that into perspective, we could cut that by more than $210 billion, and still meet our NATO obligation of 2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As of March 2017, there were nearly 1.28 million active duty troops, a reserve component of 363,748, as well as 447,259 members of the National Guard, and 736,964 civilian Department of Defense (DoD) personnel.[1] That’s over 2 million troops and nearly 3 quarters of a million DoD civilian personnel.

Of those, the Army alone has over 50,000 non-deployable soldiers.[2] Having served in the Marines, I know all about doing more with less when it comes to equipment. For example, in March of 2017, Marines training in Norway experienced equipment failures, with pack frames breaking and jacket zippers tearing at the seams.[3] With a smaller military, it would be easier to keep units and troops deployable and equip them with the best possible gear.

Not only does our military have faulty equipment, but they have equipment they don’t even need. In 2012, the Army testified before congress that the Army doesn’t need any more tanks. Regardless, Congress voted for another $183 million for tanks in the defense budget. The Army continually told Congress that they don’t need more tanks or upgrades, but again in 2015, Congress funded $120 million to upgrade our Abrams tanks.[4] Speaking of wasteful spending, the Department of Defense has also never been audited. It’s about time that happens.

A large military is necessary when fighting a conventional military force, but our threats today are not conventional. No nation can pose an existential threat to the United States by invasion. Canada and Mexico are allies, and we have oceans shielding us on both sides. If someone were to try it, that is why the Founding Fathers gave us the Second Amendment. They saw a militia of the people as the best way to secure our nation and our liberty. Due to technological advancements since then, an Air Force (The Air National Guard is the air component of our congressionally regulated militia) and missile defense systems to supplement the armed populace.

With our Second Amendment rights and National Guard providing for defense on the home front, we can look to foreign threats. Among the most significant of which is North Korea’s nuclear program. For this reason, we need to ensure that our missile defense systems are state-of-the-art. Another top threat is cyber security. With more and more of the technology we depend on not just personally, but as a nation, being connected to online systems, we become more and more vulnerable to hackers. There was recently a hacking attempt of many of our nuclear power plants, with one even being breached. The credit bureau Equifax was recently hacked, resulting in the complete financial data of hundreds of millions of Americans being compromised. In 2016, there were 1,348 data breach incidents in the United States, compromising 4,206,697,608 records. That is by far the most in the world, and more than 12 times the next most targeted nation, which is the UK, with 108 data breaches in 2016.[5] Even as far back as 2007, the Department of Defense detected 3 million attempts per day to hack its networks. The State Department detected another 2 million per day.[6] We need to make sure that our infrastructure, and the systems that keep our government, military, and economy running, are secure. We also need strong special forces to deal with smaller threats, such as international terror cells.

If we were to draw down our foreign operations – let’s face it, we’ve been in Afghanistan for 16 years. We need an exit strategy. If our NATO partners are spending 2% of their GDPs on defense, they don’t need our bases in Europe – and cut our active duty troop levels in half, although I think there is probably room to cut more, we would reduce our troop levels by 640,000. A 2010 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimated that the average active duty soldier costs about $99,000 a year in compensation.[7] Since that’s now 7 years old, it’s probably much higher than that now, but if you assume it’s $100,000 a year now, that’s at least $64 billion in savings, just in salaries and benefits. It would also reduce the need for civilian DoD employees, who make an average salary of around $80,000 plus benefits.[8] If we cut that by one third, it would be $20 billion in savings from salary alone, not considering benefits and works space. We would save money on the costs of operating bases, which we could put into missile defenses and cyber security. The money we save by equipping fewer troops could be used to ensure that each troop has the best possible equipment. With a smaller force, it is also easier to ensure that the entire force is deployable. This will also save us down the road in the form of fewer veterans’ benefits to be paid. Further saving can be identified by an audit of the Pentagon.

[5] Vanguard: The Forum for Canada’s Security and Defence Community, Volume 23, Number 3, April/May 2017, The Dashboard: Data Breach, 2017, pp. 30-31

[6] Wright, Lawrence, 2016. The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State. New York: Vintage Books. pp. 255-256)

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