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(Part 1 - Starting with a solid base)

Part 2: Counting the dollars and cents
By David Isenberg 

To paraphrase the well-known saying of former US Senator Everett Dirksen, a division sent here, a division over there, and pretty soon you are talking about real empire.

However, a real empire costs money, lots of money; especially when it involves stationing or deploying military forces around the world.

How much money? Let's turn to the budget. For fiscal year (FY) 2004, Congress approved about US$400 billion for "national defense", or in plain English, military spending. But hold on to your hats because, as they say on Broadway, you ain't seen nothing yet.

In FY 2004, military spending accounted for over half of all US federal discretionary spending. The annual military appropriations bill is expected to grow from $369 billion this year to nearly $600 billion by 2013, according to the US Congressional Budget Office.

Despite concerns about rising deficits, protracted wars and costly weapons, budget and political analysts predict that President George W Bush will ask Congress for about $470 billion in military spending for 2005. True, the request will not come all at once: The first installment was delivered to Congress February 2 in the form of a just over $420 billion budget request ($401.7 billion for the Defense Department and $19.0 billion for the nuclear weapons functions of the Department of Energy). This is an increase of 7.9 percent above current levels. The second installment, a $50 billion supplemental bill to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan war costs, won't come until after the November 2 presidential election.

That would be the third massive supplemental spending bill sought to support the wars. Congress approved a $62.6 billion supplemental last spring and an $87 billion supplemental in November.

The financial costs of maintaining US forces in Iraq are currently running at $4 billion per month, or an annual rate of $48 billion. Last September, the White House informed congressional leaders that it was preparing a new budget request of $60-70 billion to cover mounting military and reconstruction costs in Iraq. Then Bush announced a $7 billion supplemental request to cover Iraq and Afghanistan. Less than a week later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that Iraq's postwar reconstruction costs were likely to run another $35 billion above and beyond those contained in the $87 billion supplemental.

And an assessment in the Wall Street Journal last September predicts further spirals in future Iraq postwar costs attributable to gross overestimation of near-term Iraqi oil revenues; surprise at the decrepit state of Iraq's basic infrastructure; extensive and continued looting; sabotage of oil pipelines, electrical power lines, and other key reconstruction costs; downstream costs of financing expanding Iraqi government and security forces; and poor prospects for significant international donor support.

But wait, there's more. British historian Niall Ferguson noted last July: "The United States is attempting 'nation-building' - the fashionable euphemism for empire-building - on a shoestring." In other words, the US is cheap. He asks:

"Is it possible to run an empire on the Wal-Mart principle of 'always low prices'? Maybe. But that was not the way it was done in West Germany and Japan after World War II. And since those are President Bush's favorite examples of successful nation-building, he will only have himself to blame when the hoped-for economic miracle in Iraq becomes an economic debacle."

Another cost of Iraq is its effect on military force structures. As should be apparent to all by now, fighting "major combat operations" is relatively easy. Occupations are a whole other story. As military analysts Charles Knight and Marcus Corbin wrote in January:

"Our total deployable ground forces (Army and Marines) number about 400,000 active duty men and women and another 500,000 reservists. Together these numbers are more than enough to fight America's wars of short duration, such as the 1991 war with Iraq. But when policy choices result in long occupations, such totals quickly become insufficient - a result of the dismal math of force rotations. It takes four troop units on active duty to sustain deployment of one active unit in the field for multiple years, and it takes nine reserve units to sustain deployment of one reserve unit. A four or five year occupation of Iraq by 65,000 regular and 35,000 reserve troops - a realistic possibility - will require a rotation base of 260,000 active troops (65 percent of our deployable active ground forces) and 315,000 reserve troops (63 percent of our deployable reserve ground forces.) This illustration does not properly capture the full effect of our broader 'war on terror' on our reservists. Currently, more than 130,000 reserve ground troops are serving in homeland security roles, 'back filling' for active-duty soldiers elsewhere abroad and deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. For the reservists, this level of mobilization is already more than twice the long-term sustainable rate."

There has been much hand wringing in Congress of late over the "stretched too thin" military. Cries of not enough bodies are everywhere. While in strict terms this is not true, as you could halve the active army from 10 to five divisions and still have more than enough for defense of the country, it is true that defending an empire is different.

In a hearing last November Representative John Spratt said:

"Our forces were stretched thin before Iraq, and the engagement there has only exacerbated that trend. The administration has come forward with a plan for force rotation in Iraq that relies upon several assumptions. First, it assumes one-year deployments of more US troops - active, reserve and guard. Second, it assumes the influx of more multinational forces to relieve some of the pressure on American forces at least during 2004. And, third, it assumes the rapid training of Iraqi security forces of all kinds, and the eventual turnover of many security missions to these Iraqi forces. It's unclear whether the last two of these three assumptions will come to pass. We continue to train Iraqi police and army forces, but it's unclear what missions they will be able to take on and handle capably and just when. Other nations have not committed forces in substantial numbers, unfortunately, and some that have, such as Turkey, have met with difficulties that make that deployment at this point doubtful."

Recently, Lieutenant-General John M Riggs, who runs the task force charged with fashioning the army of the future, told the Baltimore Sun in an interview that the army was too small and must be increased "substantially" by more than 10,000 soldiers.

Keep in mind that January saw the start of the US military's biggest unit rotation since World War II. Eight of the 10 active-duty army divisions are now rotating in and out of Iraq, while one-third of the Army National Guard's combat battalions have been called to active duty, Riggs said. There are not enough soldiers in the army to provide for a reasonable rotation schedule of fresh troops into Iraq and for other missions, such as Afghanistan.

Of course, managing the military forces to maintain empire can be complicated. Inevitably mistakes are made. On January 20, Lieutenant-General James R Helmly, the chief of the Army Reserve, said that a series of mistakes in mobilizing and managing reserves for the war in Iraq had put the army on the brink of serious problems in retaining those soldiers. About 10,000 reserves were called up for active duty on less than five days' notice. An additional 8,000 were called up but never deployed. And of those 8,000, about half were remobilized not long after they were taken off active duty. Helmly said that serious problems are being "masked" temporarily because reservists are barred from leaving the military while their units are mobilized in Iraq. He said that the reserve force bureaucracy bungled the mobilization of soldiers for the war in Iraq, and gave them a "pipe dream" instead of honest information about how long they might have to remain there.

To rectify things, and to let reserve personnel know up front that those halcyon days of service without actually being deployed are now a historical memory, Helmly wants to change the mobilization system so members may be called to active duty for nine to 12 months every four or five years.

More bodies, whether US, foreign soldiers, or mercenaries, as in private military companies, are necessary. A bill by Representative Ellen Tauscher, currently under consideration in the House of Representatives, would add 40,000 to the army, 28,700 to the air force and 15,000 to the Marines. This overall increase of 83,700 can be compared with the entire strength of the British army, namely 114,000.

Newhouse News reported that the rising cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with expensive new weapons systems and other growing commitments, is pushing military spending inexorably upward, part of a pattern of federal spending that some economists say threatens American and global economic stability. That unanticipated cost is $12 billion to $19 billion this year and each year into the future as forces rotate through the combat zones. And the Pentagon is paying billions more for the health care of troops mobilized from National Guard and reserve units, a recurring charge expected to grow in the coming years.

David Isenberg, a senior analyst with the Washington-based British American Security Information Council (BASIC), has a wide background in arms control and national security issues.

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Feb 14, 2004

When the wheels fall off
(Feb 13, '04)


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