Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 13 March 2024


Biden Shrinks the U.S. Military


The President’s $850 billion request for the Pentagon in 2025 is a mere 1% increase over 2024. That’s a cut after inflation, the fourth in a row Mr. Biden has proposed. What’s happened in the past year? Israel was brutally attacked and is now fighting a war for survival. Iranian proxies have fired drones and rockets at U.S. troops in the region more than 100 times, and its terrorists in Yemen have taken a global shipping lane hostage.

Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is a bloody slog that he could still win. North Korea is ratcheting up its belligerence toward South Korea, which the U.S. is bound to defend. China announced recently a 7.2% increase in defense spending. One recent think-tank report estimates Beijing is fielding high-end equipment five to six times faster than the U.S.

Mr. Biden thinks this is an acceptable moment to put American defenses on a diet, and the Administration says it’s merely complying with budget caps negotiated last year with Congress. Yet few priorities escaped the axe.


The U.S. Army will contract, and not because America is relying less on land forces, which are in high demand in Europe and the Middle East. The Army is asking for 442,300 troops, though the Biden Administration requested 485,000 as recently as 2022. The healthier number for the missions required is 500,000. Shrinking the force is no substitute for fixing the underlying problem, which is a struggle to find recruits.

The U.S. Navy will purchase only six ships and retire 10 early, which would shrink the fleet to 287 ships in 2025 from 296 today. Perhaps the most egregious choice is the Administration’s decision to purchase only one Virginia-class attack submarine, instead of a planned two.

U.S. submarine technology is a crown jewel of American military power and a true advantage over a rapidly expanding Chinese naval fleet. The industrial base is struggling to produce two boats a year, and the Administration presents its decision as a concession to this incapacity.

Yet buying only one boat is a terrible signal for capital investment, and it tells adversaries that the U.S. isn’t serious about rearming. The U.S. needs to build 2.3 subs a year to meet the Navy’s needs while also supplying subs to Australia under the Aukus pact. A serious Commander in Chief would seek to expand that industrial base, not meekly succumb to it.


Remember the news only weeks ago that Russia is fielding anti-satellite weapons that threaten the U.S. homeland? The U.S. needs to diversify and harden its satellites in space, yet the Biden budget would cut the Space Force by $600 million over last year’s request. That is 2% of the force’s budget, even as the services will have to finance a proposed 4.5% pay increase for troops.

The larger picture presented by this budget is that the U.S. military is in a state of managed decline. U.S. defense spending falls to a projected 2.4% of the economy in 2034, down from an estimated 3.1% this year, which is half the nearly 6% spent during the 1980s when the U.S. was rearming to win the Cold War.

Interest on the national debt will cost more than the U.S. spends on defense this year, and the gap will continue to widen. The federal government gives more cash to state and local governments (e.g., Medicaid money) than it spends on its own defense. These are the priorities of a peacetime welfare state, not a nation serious about defending itself in a world of determined enemies and new technology that will put the U.S. at increasing risk.

Congress will have to deal with the budget deficiencies, perhaps in a supplemental bill later this year. Yet Congress has been mired in so much dysfunction that both chambers haven’t been able to pass an appropriation even for fiscal 2024 for the Pentagon. The political class in Washington is failing at its most important obligation, which is providing for the nation’s defense.

Speaking at the 2024 AFA Warfare Symposium, Gen. James Hecker described what the U.S. has learned from unmanned aerial vehicles—or UAVs—in Ukraine, and how they will change warfare. Images: AFP/Getty Images/U.S. Air Force via AP Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the March 13, 2024, print edition as 'Biden Shrinks the U.S. Military'.

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