Defense Principle #4: If a cause is worth fighting for, it is worth paying for, too. The cost of our conflicts should be paid by tax revenue, not borrowed funds.
With any type of program that requires government spending, we must consider its value within our budget realities. There is no shortage of good ideas, but it’s foolish to undertake a good idea without the ability and the will to financially sustain it to success. Nowhere is this rule more important to remember than in our military interventions.
One tough, but effective, way to assess the merit of a military intervention is to put it in the context of our existing budget. Is this action so worthwhile that we should divert funding from other activities? From domestic priorities? Can and should the international community have a financial responsibility as well, and if so, is our proposed action compelling enough to secure their buy-in?
Borrowing money to pay for military action allows us to avoid confronting these questions. It gives us the impression – the totally inaccurate impression – that military intervention has little or no cost to us as a society. The United States is currently involved in armed conflict at varying levels in many different areas around the world. Partly because we are not taxed for the cost of these actions, and partly because so few of our citizens bear the burden of military service, we go about our daily lives unaware that many of these conflicts are even taking place. Borrowing money to pay for military action therefore serves to insulate us from the consequences of our actions abroad. We can be, and are, fighting multiple conflicts across the globe with little or no media attention of civic involvement.
Furthermore, fighting conflicts with borrowed funds is fiscally irresponsible. It guarantees that the cost of this generation’s wars will be paid not by us, but by our children and grandchildren. Over more than a decade, the United States fought two ground wars, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, without imposing any increase in federal income tax designed to pay for them. We insist that we support our troops, but for most of us the cost of our support is limited to buying bumper sticker for our cars.
If we cannot agree on federal funding for a military action, we should call into question its necessity. No member of Congress wants to cede dollars they’ve secured for one program to another, and military spending has often managed to operate outside of these political forces in the name of national security. But armed conflict is nothing to be taken lightly. It is an investment of blood and treasure undertaken to pursue and secure vital goals – goals worth fighting and dying for. Asking military families to make the ultimate sacrifice without asking for sacrifice from everyone else is both unwise and immoral, and it has allowed modern-day conflicts to drag on year after year without any serious reckoning of their cost.
Some military actions are truly necessary to defend our freedom and the freedom of our allies. Any cause worth fighting and dying for is worth paying for too.
To Learn More
The Military Balance 2017 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies
SIPRI Military Expenditure Database by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute
What Percentage of Americans Have Served in the Military? by Mona Chalabi (FiveThirtyEight, March 19, 2015)
Who Bears the Burden? Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Recruits Before and After 9/11 by Tim Kane (The Heritage Foundation, November 7, 2005)