Arming First:

Congress is expected to vote on the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, which would increase American defense spending by 8% compared to fiscal year 2022. If the Act passes, the annual defense budget would reach approximately $858 billion, $45 billion above the White House’s proposal in spring 2022. This increase is intended to help the Department of Defense (the Pentagon) face inflation, which has reached a level unheard of for 40 years. The increase is also intended to help the Pentagon meet China’s increased defense spending and fund Department of Defense programs that the Biden administration had sought to eliminate.

There remain disagreements between lawmakers as to the final form of the bill, particularly between those who support a continuation of the vaccine mandate (which imposes disciplinary actions and discharge on members of the military who refuse to be vaccinated) and those who oppose this mandate because of a recruitment crisis in the US military. Failure to reach a final agreement on this issue will influence the vote on the proposed Act. Congress has until 16 December 2022 to decide whether to pass the budget in its entirety or to extend the consideration period (and thereby risk a partial government shutdown).

Motivation for the Expenditures

The defense budget shrank during the final years of the Obama presidency, when Congress placed limits on defense spending and the rate of America’s international military deployment declined. However, the defense budget has increased significantly in recent years, especially during the Trump presidency because no upper limit was placed on defense spending. The defense budget increased 5.5% from 2017 to 2018, 8.6% from 2018 to 2019, 3.9% from 2021 to 2021, and 1.9%from 2021 to 2022. Various factors are driving the increase in military expenditures for fiscal year 2023. The most important factors may be described as follows:

1. Shortages in the Pentagon’s strategic weapons stockpile: Over the past 10 months of the Russian-Ukrainian War, $10 billion worth of weapons from America’s strategic stockpile have been sent to Kiev. This has depleted a large portion of weapons stores. Lawmakers insisted on increasing the budget to replenish the stockpile while continuing to supply Kiev and US allies in Europe through the end of 2024, especially as long as the war is ongoing.

2. An effort to maintain US global hegemony: As inflation rises and economists fear a 2023 recession, Americans increasingly feel that the US economy is on shaky footing and that an economic crisis would threaten the country’s global standing. This has encouraged increased spending on military appropriations in order to safeguard America’s global image, show off its military power, and increase its deterrence capability. Chinese analysts describe this as wasted spending that will ultimately only benefit arms and munitions manufacturers in the United States.

3. A desire to contain the rise of China: Increased spending on defense appropriations has been justified as a way to confront China’s rising global power and the risk of a Chinese military invasion of Taiwan, which the United States has pledged to defend. America has pledged to supply the island with weapons to help face growing Chinese threats. It has also pledged to involve Taiwan in future military exercises. The increased spending has also been justified as a way to strengthen America’s military capability to address dangers to shipping and global commerce in the South China Sea, to confront threats to US allies in the Indian and Pacific Ocean regions, and to meet China’s increasing capacity in supersonic missiles and other forms of military power.

4. Confronting rising global threats: Various other distinct threats are motivating the United States to increase its military spending. These include threats related to North Korea—which has continued to develop and test its nuclear arsenal, destabilizing the global order and threatening the United States and its allies in Asia. There is the threat of Iran, which threatens US allies in the Middle East. There is the fear that, following America’s chaotic withdrawal in August 2021, Afghanistan will become a new epicenter of terrorism. Finally, there is the desire to confront the increasing threat of global terrorism.

Key Aspects of the Expenditures

The proposed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023, on which Congress will vote this month, is expected to fund specific areas in support of the military power of the United States and its allies. This may be summed up as follows:

1. Supporting the development of nuclear deterrence capabilities: The budget appropriates $25 billion to aid the continued development of the SLCM-N, a sea-launched cruise missile that capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The White House had attempted to eliminate this program, arguing that nuclear attack submarines would sufficiently enhance America’s deterrence capability. Lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican parties opposed the administration’s view, seeing a necessity for further development of the American nuclear triad, including the cruise missile program that provided additional capacity for nuclear deterrence.

2. Funding weapons for the US military: The proposed Act stipulates an increase in the size of the American naval fleet by appropriating $32.6 billion for 11 new battle force ships. This is to say nothing of the increased appropriations for CH-47 heavy-lift helicopters, UH-60 Blackhawk medium-lift helicopters, MQ-1 Gray Eagle drones, and for the modernization of the F-22 Raptor aircraft.

The Act further appropriates $2.7b for the US army to buy new munitions and $1 billion to double the American strategic minerals stockpile, which had begun to deplete in recent years. This is a step that will reduce imports from China for American defensive weapons. There is also $19b in funding earmarked to keep up with inflation and the rising costs of fuel, building materials, and other military purchases.

4. Assistance to personnel and increasing military pay: The proposal also focuses on another area:  personnel matters. The proposed Act increases military pay by approximately 4.6% starting in the new year. This is equivalent to a $1,300 increase for junior troops, a $2,500 increase for senior troops and junior officers, and a $4,500 increase for those with more than 12 years of service. This is the largest increase for servicemen in 20 years. Alongside this is a compensatory housing allowance to aid military families living in high-cost areas. Appropriations for recruitment incentives to maintain the US military’s recruiting capability are also under consideration.

5. Increasing military aid to Taiwan: The defense budget includes two measures to enhance deterrence measures in the Taiwan Strait, to strengthen American-Taiwanese relations, and to invite Taipei to participate in the 2024 Rim of the Pacific Exercise. The two measures are the Taiwan Peace and Stability Act and the Taiwan Fellowship Act. Some say that these two measures do more to destabilize Taiwan than to maintain the peace and security of the island.

6. Continuing military aid to Ukraine: In light of the continued Russian-Ukrainian War, America will remain committed to supplying Kiev with weapons and ammunition to assist against the ongoing Russian invasion. This continued support affects the security and stability of the European continent. The Act appropriates approximately $800 million in new military aid to Kiev. This is alongside America’s existing military commitments to Ukraine, which reached approximately $70 billion in 2022.

7. Enhancing the security of Middle Eastern allies: The proposed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 takes an interest in the Middle East. It seeks to take on various challenges in the region and address areas where the administration has fallen short. This is through increased monitoring of Iranian nuclear activities and the actions of the country’s military wing, which threatens Israel and other US allies in the region. A working group under the leadership of the US Department of State is to be formed to observe Iran’s nuclear weapons development and missile capability and write periodic reports. Another provision of the Act stipulates that a strategy be crafted to enhance cooperation between Washington and its allies in the Middle East. This is to increase cooperation in air and missile defense in the face of Tehran’s military activities.

The Act also includes a prohibition on using the defense budget to move Guantanamo detainees to Middle Eastern countries like Libya, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. It further removes restrictions on selling F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. And there is aid for allies inside Iraq and Syria to fight ISIS.

Numerous Critiques

Numerous critiques have been directed against the increases in the proposed National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023. The most significant are as follows:

1. Considering the increases illusory due to inflation: Some hold that the budget increase does not represent an actual increase in military spending in light of the rising inflation rate in the United States. Trends indicate that inflation will continue to rise despite the Federal Reserve’s strategy of raising interest rates to contain inflation and lower the inflation rate. Those who hold this view explain their perspective by pointing out that, with millions of unfilled jobs, salaries will continue to rise in order to attract suitable workers. With the continued rise of the inflation rate and price increases—including for fuel and materials related to defense—the defense budget increase will barely compensate for the changed prices.

2. The dwindling importance of military spending: Many Chinese analysts view the increase to the US defense budget as solely an attempt to feel more secure—a false sense of security given the economic upheaval that the United States has been unable to fix. Therefore, Washington’s increase military power cannot achieve the desired security for the United States and its citizens.

On another note, these analysts see the budget appropriations for Taipei as pointless. Even if Taiwan is included in the 2024 military exercises in the Pacific Ocean, the island will remain a weak military power compared to the United States and its allies—to say nothing of China, the principle threat to Taipei. Beijing likewise believes that it has the upper hand viz-a-viz Taiwan. China’s geographic position gives it an exceptional ability to make moves and to dominate, as does its other capacities and Washington’s declared commitment to the principle of One China. Seen in this light, the measures pertaining to Taiwan in the National Defense Authorization Act are nothing but threats to the island’s stability.

3. Questioning Washington’s ability to protect its allies: Some see that increased defense appropriations will not help the United States honor its obligations to European allies facing a real crisis in the form of fuel shortages. Winter is arriving, temperatures are dropping, houses need to be heated, and Europe is not getting gas from Russia. In the view of some, the budget does not match the message that Washington is trying to convey. "America is back," the administration claims, attempting to erase Trump’s idea of "America first." But the United States is reducing its military presence overseas and focusing on enhancing its allies’ capabilities instead of getting involved directly in confronting any given threat.

In conclusion, increases in America’s defense spending seems unavoidable as inflation is rising to an unprecedented degree. For some, these budget increases are pointless. But, without a doubt, they will stabilize some nuclear programs, support Ukraine in its war against Russia, support Taiwan, and permit the US military to replenish the strategic stockpile that declined precipitously in 2022.