The President says he wants to increase the end-strength size of the Army. What to think? One point to note is that this is a longstanding Democratic Party idea, something backed by John Kerry. Is it actually a good idea? The answer is that it depends.
In a world without tradeoffs, a larger Army would certainly be useful. Life, however, is all about tradeoffs. A bigger Army is a more expensive one: “Army officials have estimated that for each addition of 10,000 soldiers to the force, it would cost about $1.2 billion.” One can easily imagine worse things to spend $5 billion on than adding 40,000 troops to the Army, but one can also imagine better things. The Kerry campaign’s proposal was to pay for the troop increase by scaling back spending on national missile defense. That would be a good idea. Similarly, any additions in troops that can from scaling back or canceling weapons systems like the V-22 Osprey, the Virginia Class Submarine, the DD(X) Destroyer, the F-22 Raptor, or the size of the American nuclear arsenal would be a good idea. Reasonably independently of specific ideas about foreign policy it makes sense to shift military spending away from hardware and toward quantity and quality of personnel. Likewise along these lines, if we end our deployment in Iraq in 2007 rather than in 2009 or 2012 we’ll save hundreds of billions of dollars that would be better spent on enhancing the Army’s manpower.
Conversely, simply borrowing additional money to further increase the Defense Department budget or reducing the budgets of other agencies to increase the Defense Department budget is not an appealing option. We should be changing America’s security-spending priorities to better-suited the contemporary world, not increasing the overall scale of our spending at a time when America’s objective security from foreign threats has rarely been higher.