The U.S. military has been reduced to its lowest levels since the Vietnam War, and the nation’s first African-American president has warned of the dangers of a “worrisome” military presence.
But as the nation waits for President Donald Trump to declare victory in the 2018 midterm elections, a new survey finds that military readiness has remained high.
“The Department of Defense has had a steady, steady decline in the number of active duty troops since 2000,” said James A. Ricks, an associate professor of public policy at the University of South Florida and a former Army officer who was a commander in the National Guards in Vietnam.
“It’s been a steady decline, but I would say it’s still a pretty high percentage.”
Ricks’ research is part of a national survey of Americans that’s tracking the state of the military.
It finds that a majority of Americans have confidence in the military, and that the military is doing a better job than it was in the early 1990s.
But Ricks and colleagues also found that the overall military budget has not increased substantially.
Instead, the military has increased over the last 20 years, from $4.5 trillion to $5.7 trillion.
RICKS: A lot of the increase was the result of sequestration, the sequester, which cuts funding for the military in 2040.
But the increase in the Pentagon budget was actually a little more modest than what you might expect from an increase of 1% in the overall budget, and I think that’s probably because of the sequesters, the budget sequestration that was put in place in 2015.
ROGERS: You have to remember that, for example, in the 1990s, the defense budget was about $1.6 trillion, and it was going up and up, and there were some budget cuts in the 2000s that had an impact on readiness, and then there was a huge increase in 2014 and 2015.
But overall, it’s not been that big a change.
ROUTE: But we’re spending so much money.
RIKINS: Yes, the Pentagon has spent about the same amount, but it’s been much higher, and we’ve got more troops on the ground, we have more equipment, we’re able to spend more on training, we’ve been able to do a better Job Corps program, and so on.
RACK: And what’s the overall picture?
RICKSS: In the past 10 years, the Defense Department has been spending about $3 trillion.
That’s an increase, but what I find interesting about that is it doesn’t really match the overall increase in spending.
And there is some overlap, because you’re talking about some of the things that were previously funded through defense contractors, like F-35s, F-22s, and other things that are now being put into place.
But it doesn, for the most part, match the actual increase in defense spending.
ROCK: Do you think there’s a problem in terms of readiness?
RACKSS: I think there is a problem.
There’s not enough soldiers, and a lot of it is because there’s not a lot to do.
There are not a ton of training opportunities.
There aren’t a lot opportunities for people to actually go and do a drill.
There isn’t a ton that is going on to actually get people into combat situations, and, in fact, it doesn [the] biggest challenge that we face as a country, in terms that we’re a war zone, is not having a robust military.
RICHARD BROWN, RAND CORPORATION: We’ve got to be better at training.
And I think we’re doing a terrible job of training our soldiers.
RANKSS: But if we don’t do anything, and just continue to do what we’re been doing and keep increasing military spending, the country’s going to continue to suffer, and ultimately we’re going to lose our place as the dominant force in the world.
ROUGHLY HALF A MILLION DOLLARS LIKELY TO BE FUEL FOR MILITARY RANKS: RICKERS: That’s right.
And that’s where we’re headed, because it’s going back to the status quo.
RACHAEL BENDER, FORMER DIRECTOR, DEFENSE SECURITY DEPARTMENT: I would put it at about a fifth of the total military budget, or maybe that’s closer to half.
RIPP: How much do you think we spend on defense?
RANK: About $1 trillion.
It’s just a matter of what we do with it, and how much it’s really going to help us.
RUBEN BENDERS, FOREST MANAGEMENT OFFICER: It’s not just the size of the defense, but the nature of the threats.
And it’s something that we need to be vigilant about, especially as the world