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Fiorina’s Wasteful Military Expansion Plan

Something I didn’t mention in my post-debate write-up was Carly Fiorina’s call for a massive expansion of military spending. She said:

We need the strongest military on the face of the planet, and everyone has to know it. And, specifically, what that means is we need about 50 Army brigades, we need about 36 Marine battalions, we need somewhere between 300 and 350 naval ships, we need to upgrade every leg of the nuclear triad…

Fiorina’s first sentence is an odd one, since the U.S. already has by far the strongest military in the world, and everyone (with the possible exception of the 2016 Republican field) is well aware of this. The U.S. doesn’t “need” to increase the size of its armed forces to demonstrate anything to anyone. Fiorina is boasting that she is prepared to splurge hundreds of billions of dollars–all of it financed by more borrowing–to build up a military that doesn’t “need” to be increased at all. It is an extraordinarily expensive and unnecessary commitment, and it is being made at a time when the U.S. faces no peer competitor and faces the fewest major threats it has known in decades. The military budget today is still higher in real terms than it was at the height of the Reagan build-up, and Fiorina proposes that it go ever-higher. As Emma Ashford noted recently, this call for massive increases in military spending is founded on the false assumption that the U.S. military has been significantly weakened in recent years. That isn’t true:

Today, the United States makes up 38.4% of all global military spending, and spends substantially more on the military than it did on average during the Cold War. The idea that the U.S. military is weak may be attractive to candidates – especially those who wish to appear strong by proposing increases to the military budget – but this assertion merely encourages us to pour unending amounts of money into the military budget without considering necessary reforms.

That is exactly what Fiorina promises to do. How much money are we talking about? Upgrading our nuclear forces alone is estimated to cost $700 billion. The increased size of the services Fiorina has in mind would require hundreds of billions more and would force the U.S. to pay a larger fraction of its GDP on the military than it already does. Based on CBO estimates of what it would cost to build a Navy smaller than 300 ships over the next 25 years, Fiorina’s proposal for the Navy alone would easily be more than another $700 billion. Since we can assume all of this is going to be paid for through deficit spending, it would be that much more fiscally irresponsible. There’s no justification for this inherently wasteful and excessive military spending, but such is the sorry state of the debate inside the GOP that Fiorina will probably never be forced to defend her proposal.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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