Evaluating the Impact of Defense Spending

The Pentagon is again being criticized for wasteful spending. There’s some irony in this accusation, as battles between Congress and the Pentagon have frequently resulted in billions of dollars in spending on defense programs supported by Congress but opposed by the Pentagon. But a story in the LA Times this week, the Pentagon has spent more than $10 billion to develop a missile defense system capable of defending the United States from ballistic missile attack. Despite massive spending, no viable system has yet been developed. The Pentagon maintains that the task given the group is enormous—akin to shooting a bullet with another bullet—and that the spending so far provided valuable research advances that will someday lead to a viable system.

At the same time, critics of the missile defense program—and of much of the Congressional authorizations for Pentagon research—focus too heavily on outdated threats. They argue that the most significant threats to national security come from individual terrorist cells sneaking weapons into the United States or threatening our allies, not from more traditional nuclear or conventional threats from countries like Russia or North Korea. Consequently, spending they argue should shift to reflect the new global reality.

What do you think? In an era of declining defense spending, does research on missile defense systems make sense? How should the United States prioritize its defense spending? And what threats do you think the United States needs to address most immediately?

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