Dwight D. Eisehhower warned this country about the military/industrial complex in his speech when he left the White House.
It was buncombe then and it's buncombe now. I know. I crunch the numbers--it's why they pay me. Do you know the size of the defense budget as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product was under good old Ike? It averaged 12% over his two terms, during a time when we were not fighting any major wars. Under the Reagan defense buildup of the 1980s, defense spending accounted for only 7% of GDP. And, while defense spending slumped to only 3.6% of GDP under Clinton, it rose to only 5.5% of GDP in 2008, at the height of the war in Iraq (combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for just 1% of GDP per annum from 2003-2011).
Defense under Eisenhower accounted for close to half of total U.S. Federal expenditures. Today, defense accounts for about 18% of Federal expenditures. On the other hand, Social Securty, Medicare, Welfare and interest on the debt now account for more than 50% of all Federal expenditures, and 100% of all Federal revenues.
It's also important to remember that, under Eisenhower, we had a conscript military, manned mainly by draftees making minimum wage. Today, we have a professional, volunteer military force and must provide them with competitive wages and benefits (which I consider barely adequate, considering what our soldiers, sailers, airmen and marines do). Military Personnel (MILPERS) costs, which include pensions (all other government workers pensions are paid out of a general fund, not out of agency budgets), amount to roughly 26.5% of the defense budget. Operations and Maintenance (O&M)--the money to pay for fuel, food, training, spare parts and equipment overhaul--accounts for about 30%. The remaining 43% is mostly split between Procurement (PROC)--money spent to buy new equipment--and Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E)--money spent to develop the next generation of equipment. At present, PROC accounts for about 25% of the defense budget, while RDT&E accounts for about 18%.
Since I assume you want the troops to be paid, for veterans to receive their pensions, and for military families to receive health care, you can't cut much from MILPERS. And I also assume that you want our troops to be well trained, their equipment to be well maintained, and for them to have adequate stockpiles of fuel, ammunition and spare parts, so there isn't much you can cut from O&M. So, that leaves Procurement and RDT&E. But, together, these amount only to about $258 billion. Sure, there are some programs that can and ought to be eliminated, others that can be stretched out over time, but, overall, we have not invested much in new equipment since the 1980s--all our tanks, armored vehicles, aircraft, ships were designed in the 1970s and 80s, and procured in the 1980s and 90s. Like cars, these things don't last forever. So, again, what are you going to cut? Are you saying that a country with the size and wealth of the United States cannot afford to pay out 4% of its Gross Domestic Product on its own defense--which, I might remind you, is an enumerated power, something that the Federal Government is authorized to do, and which only it can do.
As for the industrial side of the military industrial complex, how many defense companies can be found in the top 100 companies in the U.S.? Answer: none. In fact, the combined defense revenues of the Big Six defense companies (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Inc., Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics) is less than $200 billion, or less than half the annual revenues of WalMart ($422 billion). Walmart was also a lot more profitable than any defense company, with a profit margin of 24%, as compared to average profits of about 10% for the defense industry.
The entire defense industry in the United States--at all levels, prime contractor and subcontractor, manufacturing and services combined, has revenues of only some $475 billion, in an economy of some $14 trillion. So, defense companies account for only 3.6% of the total GDP of the United States--that's hardly a dominant position, or one from which the defense industry can extort or bribe additional funding from the government. If defense is so powerful, why isn't it making more money?
People who speak of our "outrageous" defense expenditures usually have no idea how much we spend on defense, as compared to what we spend, say, on feminine hygiene products or snack food or video games. They also have very little conception of the benefits, both direct and indirect, that the U.S. military provide not only for our country, but for the world.
Try to remember when there is a tsunami in Indonesia or a hurricane in Haiti, or an earthquake in Turkey, and relief supplies are piling up in warehouses around the world because all the airports, seaports and roads are blocked or destroyed, that it was the U.S. military which actually delivered the goods, repaired the infrastructure, treated the injured, fed the starving. That never shows up in our "humanitarian assistance" budget, but it's just as--if not--more valuable than a bag of rice purchased by the Swedish government that cannot be delivered where it is needed.
We, and the world, also benefit from the stability that the U.S. military brings to the world. If you think the world is a bad place because the U.S. military is so active, try to imagine a world where it isn't.
But, in the meanwhile, maybe it would be better to get informed before spouting bromides about complex topics of which one knows little.