On the eve of his visit this week to Asia, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined his key concern. “China is our pacing threat,” he said. He explained that for the past 20 years, the United States had been focused on the Middle East while China had been modernizing its military. “We still maintain the edge,” he noted, “and we’re going to increase the edge going forward.” Welcome to the new age of bloated Pentagon budgets, all to be justified by the great Chinese threat.
What Austin calls America’s “edge” over China is more like a chasm. The United States has about 20 times the number of nuclear warheads as China. It has twice the tonnage of warships at sea, including 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers compared with China’s two carriers (which are much less advanced). Washington has more than 2,000 modern fighter jets compared with Beijing’s roughly 600, according to national security analyst Sebastien Roblin.
U.S. military spending remains larger than the defense budgets of the next 10 countries put together, most of which are Washington’s close allies. The United States’ intelligence budget alone — around $85 billion — is larger than Russia’s total defense spending.
But without well defined goals and intelligent and consistent political and military strategy, millions of troops and trillions of dollars will not guarantee victory against any adversary. Bigness is not a substitute for brains.