The Index of U.S. Military Strength

The Index of U.S. Military Strength
(Lt. Col. James Carafano, May 9, 2024)

Transcript available below

About the speaker

James Jay Carafano is Senior Counselor to the President and E.W. Richardson Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

A leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, Carafano previously served as the Vice President of Heritage’s Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.

Carafano is an accomplished historian and teacher as well as a prolific writer and researcher. His most recent publication is “Brutal War” (Lynne Reinner, 2021), a study of combat in the Southwest Pacific. He also authored “Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World” (Texas A&M University Press, 2012), a survey of the revolutionary impact of the Internet age on national security. He was selected from thousands to speak on cyber warfare at the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, the nation’s premier tech and social media conference.

Before assuming responsibility for Heritage’s entire defense and foreign policy team in December 2012, Carafano had served as deputy director of the Davis Institute as well as director of its Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies since 2009.

His recent research has focused on developing the national security required to secure the long-term interests of the United States—protecting the public, providing for economic growth and preserving civil liberties. (Many of his writings for Heritage appear below.)

He is editor of a book series, The Changing Face of War, which examines how emerging political, social, economic and cultural trends will affect the nature of armed conflict. From 2012 to 2014 and 2020 to 2021, he served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council convened by the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Carafano, a 25-year Army veteran with a master’s and doctorate from Georgetown University, joined Heritage in 2003 as a senior research fellow in homeland security and missile defense. He worked with Kim R. Holmes, his predecessor as vice president and director of Davis Institute, to produce Heritage’s groundbreaking documentary film “33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age.”

Carafano now directs Heritage’s team of foreign and defense policy experts in five centers on the front lines of international affairs: the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, the Asian Studies Center, the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, the Border Security and Immigration Center, and the Center for National Defense. 

Carafano served as president of a nonprofit organization, Esprit de Corps, which educated the public about veteran affairs. In this capacity he co-produced and co-wrote the documentaries “Veteran Nation,” an official selection of the 2013 G.I. Film Festival, and “Why We Fight: 9/11 and America’s Longest War” (2018). 

Before coming to Heritage, Carafano was a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington policy institute dedicated to defense issues.

In his Army career, Carafano served in Europe, Korea and the United States. His assignments included head speechwriter for the Army Chief of Staff, the service’s highest-ranking officer. Before retiring, Carafano was executive editor of Joint Force Quarterly, the Defense Department’s premiere professional military journal.

A graduate of West Point, Carafano holds a master’s degree and a doctorate from Georgetown University as well as a master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College.

He was an adjunct professor at Hillsdale College and taught as a visiting professor at National Defense University. He previously served as an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., and as director of military studies at the Army’s Center of Military History. He also taught for Mount Saint Mary College in New York, the University of Chicago, Georgetown University, the National Defense University, Virgina Tech University, the Daniel Morgan Graduate School and was a fleet professor at the U.S. Naval War College.

He is the co-author with Paul Rosenzweig of Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom (2005). The authors, first to coin the term “the long war,” argued that a successful strategy requires a balance of prudent military and security measures, continued economic growth, zealous protection of civil liberties and prevailing in the “war of ideas” against terrorist ideologies.

Carafano also co-authored a textbook, Homeland Security (McGraw-Hill, third edition 2019), designed as a practical introduction to everyday life in the era of terrorism. The textbook addresses such key details as the roles of first responders and volunteers, family preparedness techniques and in-depth looks at weapons of mass destruction.

His other works include Private Sector/Public Wars: Contracting in Combat–Iraq, Afghanistan and Future Conflicts(2008); G.I. Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and Winning World War II(2006); Waltzing Into the Cold War(2002); and After D-Day (2000), a Military Book Club main selection.

As an expert on foreign affairs, defense, intelligence and homeland security issues, Carafano has testified many times before Congress.

He is a regular guest analyst for the major U.S. network and cable television news organizations, from ABC to Fox to MSNBC to PBS, as well as such outlets as National Public Radio, Newsmax, OANN, PJ media, Voice of America, Epoch News, and the History Channel. From SkyNews to Al Jazeera, he also has appeared on TV news programs originating in Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Canada, China, Croatia, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, and Vietnam.

Carafano’s op-ed columns and commentary are published widely, including the Baltimore SunBoston GlobeNew York PostPhiladelphia InquirerUSA Today, Washington TimesNewsweek, Real Clear Politics, The National Interest, 19FortyFive and Forbes. He has been a contributing columnist at The Washington Examiner and Fox News. 

He served on the board of trustees of the Marine Corps University Foundation and advisory boards for the West Point Center of Oral History, the Hamilton Society, the Spirit of America, and the Operation Renewed Hope Foundation, which serves homeless veterans. He formerly was a senior fellow at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute. He also previously served on the congressionally-mandated Advisory Panel on Department of Defense Capabilities for Support of Civil Authorities, the National Academy’s Board on Army Science and Technology and the Department of the Army Historical Advisory Committee.

In 2005, he received Heritage’s prestigious W. Glenn and Rita Ricardo Campbell Award. The honor goes to the staff member determined to have made “an outstanding contribution to the analysis and promotion of the free society.”


Robert R. Reilly:

Hello and welcome to the Westminster Institute. I am Robert Reilly, its director. Today Westminster is delighted to welcome back Dr. James Carafano, who is Senior Counselor to the President and E.W. Richardson Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

A leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, Carafano previously served as the Vice President of Heritage’s Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.

He is editor of a book series, The Changing Face of War, which examines how emerging political, social, economic and cultural trends will affect the nature of armed conflict.

Dr. Carafano is a 25-year Army veteran with a master’s and doctorate from Georgetown University. He joined Heritage in 2003 as a senior research fellow in homeland security and missile defense. He worked with his predecessor in producing a groundbreaking documentary film “33 Minutes: Protecting America in the New Missile Age.”

Jim now directs Heritage’s team of foreign and defense policy experts in five centers on the front lines of international affairs. 

In his distinguished Army career, Dr. Carafano, a graduate of West Point, served in Europe, Korea, and the United States. His assignments included head speechwriter for the Army Chief of Staff, the service’s highest-ranking officer. Before retiring, Dr. Carafano was executive editor of Joint Force Quarterly, the Defense Department’s premiere professional military journal.

Along with his degrees from Georgetown University, he also gained a master’s degree in strategy from the U.S. Army War College. He has taught at many universities, including as a visiting professor at National Defense University, and director of military studies at the Army’s Center of Military History. He was a fleet professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Today we will be discussing the Heritage Foundation’s 2024 index of U.S. military strength and whether the U.S. military is up to its job. Jim, welcome back.

James Carafano:

Thanks for having me and thanks for all you guys do. It is a terrific institution, and your work is awesome. It is a privilege to be here and also a privilege to talk about the index and the role we think it plays in public policy.

Robert R. Reilly:

This is the 10th year of the index?

James Carafano:

Yeah. The origins of the index are kind of interesting. If anybody is a student of military affairs, they know that really with the end of the Cold War we really entered into a period of [asking] what do we measure our military against, what is the mission, and what force do you need to do that? And the reality is, I think, since 1989 the force structure has been driven by politics, not really by strategy, and in part the way administrations did this was essentially they defined the threats and the needs the way they wanted to, and then they say, oh, we have a strategy-based force.

If you look, we used to have something called the quadrennial defense reviews where every four years they were supposed to report to the Congress on the force structure and how that matched up with the threats and strategies. And literally what every administration did was they just rewrote the requirements to make what they wanted to spend fit and then we had other defense reviews.

And one day, you know, I got asked by a member of Congress, and they said, you know, we get all these reviews and we do not know what to measure it against. And I realized that the one thing that the U.S. has not had [is an index of military strength]. We can debate strategy, we can debate force structure, we can debate spending, but we have not had a consistent benchmark to say, well, are we getting better or worse? So we actually set out to create an independent, verifiable way of measuring military strength consistently, year in and year out, so you may not like our metrics, you may not like what we use, but everything that we have is either quantitatively or qualitatively definable and we measure it in the same way every year, so you have a consistent measure, now over a decade of military capability.

The other thing that is interesting is we looked at three things, because you cannot look at military forces in context and say if you are stronger or better. So if you think of a cage fight, and you are having an MMA battle, you cannot just say, well, it depends on who you are in the ring with, right? So not only do we look at U.S. military capabilities, we also look at what potential enemies have, and we look at the context in where they would fight, so the theater, what infrastructure is available to the theater, and also what potential allies would bring to the table, so that gives you a full picture of military context because it is relative to the enemy, relative to your friends, relative to where you are fighting.

The other thing that is unique about our measurement is we measure against what we call used to call a two war capability, and the argument for that is the United States is a global power with global interests and global responsibilities, so the notion that we could ever be comfortable in just having enough force for one theater or one conflict would be inadequate because somebody else could take advantage of that. And indeed, if you look at today, we are already engaged in supporting Ukraine in one theater, we are engaged in in supporting countries and keeping the sea lines of communications open in a second theater, and we are increasingly concerned about deterring China in a third theater, so we thought it was valid to say can you do a two-theater capability. Whether you like that idea or not, at least it is a consistent measure over time.

And the third thing is which theaters really matter, again, we have used military forces all over the world. We have used them for all kinds of missions, everything from disaster response against hurricanes to famine relief in Somalia, and we said, well, what are the pacing items? And so we really look at the three theaters that are most crucial to the United States, the three things that really connect the world together and enable the United States to project power and protect interests, and those are Western Europe, the greater Middle East, and the Indo Pacific. We do not ignore Latin America and Africa, but we consider those lesser cases.

And then we look at all the military capabilities. We look at the Army, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, the Navy, and now in the last few years we have added in the space force. We also look at strategic forces, missile defense, and nuclear weapons. And everything we do has to be measurable, and it has to be measurable in the same way every year from year to year, so if you look at the index, typically there are five or six hundred pages if you printed it out, and literally thousands of footnotes. Everything is measured to something that somebody can have, and it is all done with unclassified data, so as far as we know, and I am sure this is actually true, this is the largest and most comprehensive unclassified assessment of U.S. military capability in the world.

There is not even a document that the Pentagon produces that is equal to the detail and the information that we have, so a lot of people may be familiar with IISS and their military balance thing they do every year, and there are some other surveys out there. These surveys are not at all equivalent to what we do. Nobody does what we do.

And the other thing is we put it all out there, so every single bit of information, every footnote, is available online for free. Matter of fact, some of our heaviest ISP usage is from China, so whenever it comes out, we know that the Chinese usage just explodes, and so people from all over the world use it. And our argument is, well, you know, hey, all of this is publicly available information, so we are not really telling anybody anything they could not [find out on their own]. What we are doing is, I think, putting it together a very comprehensive and clear way, so that is what you get.

And again, we have measured it exactly the same way every year for 10 years using the same data, and so it does give you a consistent measure over time of whether relative to the threats and the missions you have, whether you are stronger or you are weaker than you were the year before.

Robert R. Reilly:

Thanks so much, Jim, for that introductory take on the index. I would have to say the Pentagon would not produce a document like this because the public affairs shop in that building would never allow it out. It is pretty grim. And also, not to discourage our audience from going to the index, which as Jim says has more than 500 pages, but there is an executive summary at the beginning that is about 25 pages, and it contains the gist of the thing.

I congratulate you on taking such an unflinching look at U.S. military capabilities and rating them from very poor to good. The overall conclusion of the study is that we are not in a position, that is the U.S. military is not in a position, to fulfill its mission. It has inadequate equipment, inadequate capacity, and the pacing challenges from our prime competitors are making it worse every year. In fact, you also have another index that is put out by the Heritage Foundation, which is a 10-year perspective the index of U.S. military strength, 10 years in review, so while there is perspective in the index, here is another Heritage publication that gives the broad trend lines, none of which are really in the favor of the United States.

Robert R. Reilly:

Let me just step back a moment and ask you who is reading this and what kind of impact has it had, and do you come under attack for being a partisan institution in some way, or does your audience accept this exactly the way you presented it, as a consistent, quantifiable look at the condition of the U.S. military year by year?

James Carafano:

Sure, it is a great question, and I should add when we look at the military, we look at all the things that contribute to military strength, so we not only look at how many tanks and airplanes and ships and people do you have, but we also look at readiness. So, for example, one key indicator is how many hours does a pilot fly. If you get below 100 hours for a combat pilot, you really do not have, you know, a trained pilot.

And we also look at the age of equipment and modernization and the stockpiles of how many munitions you have, so we look at all the things that contribute to that. I will say, generally, it has been very well accepted. I mean, if you just look at the usage of the index, it is an incredibly large number, and it is from all over the world. It is not just in the U.S.

We had some interesting feedback. When we first started the index, for example, we got angry calls from the Air Force, and they said we do not like your index. We are in much worse shape than you think we are, so they were jealous that, you know, other services were getting lower ratings than where they were, and so actually created in the early years some very robust discussion with the services about looking at what data we are using and enriching that, so that has been helpful.

You know, on the positive side there have been things like when Donald Trump first ran for president, he gave one speech on defense policy, and it was basically, you know, we need peace through strength. [It was a] rebuild our military speech, and it was entirely based on the Heritage military index, and the reason why I know that is because the guy that wrote the speech told me so. And to Trump’s credit they did try to invest in some of the areas, particularly in readiness, to try to bump up some of those things.

I do remember every once in a while, you know, particularly in the last administration, we came out and some Pentagon spokesman was asked about [it]. He goes oh well, who cares about that, you know? He goes, you know, it says we have to fight two wars, well, that is not our strategy, so it does not matter. Well, that is exactly the kind of behavior that we are arguing against, which is you can just re-baseline to make success look like whatever you want it to look like.

I do think that the current tensions that we are seeing around the world have validated the notion that it is right that the United States has to have the capability to act in multiple places simultaneously. Otherwise, adversaries can take advantage of that. It is used a lot if for no other reason because there is nothing else out there that delivers that kind of data, so it has really become kind of the de facto standard for readiness debates when people look at this stuff.

Robert R. Reilly:

I am sure it is widely read overseas, particularly by those who are not particularly favorable to the United States, and the kind of weaknesses it exposes is an invitation to be taken advantage of. One example, of course this is going back a while, was Chairman Xi’s appropriation of the South China Seas with the building of his artificial reefs and then militarizing them. And President Obama just pretended it was not happening, or said we will pivot to Asia, but he did not have much to pivot with.

James Carafano:

If you look at the index, you know, for example, this is one of the things it is really good for because part of the reason, again, what we did is – we get this all the time – it is like, well, why are you spending all this money, like why do we need this? You hear from conservatives and liberals, why are we not spending this money on school buses, right? So what we try to do is say look, here is what you get, you know, and this is what it costs, so we do try to map, you know, kind of how much you are investing in, what are you getting paid for that. And I think that is incredibly useful.

But you can look at things, for example, like the pivot to Asia, [which] is a very good example. People constantly say, well, we need to pivot to Asia, right? That is the real problem. We should ignore, you know, other theaters. Well, first of all, we have already seen the reality of [this]. We have got two theaters already on fire here, so the notion that the United States could do nothing and just focus on one part of the world and defend its interests, well, I think reality has proven that does not work, and our thing, which says we need to be able to do multiple things, is the right approach.

But if you do not like it, that is fine. It is still the measure that we use, but I think the other thing is if you look at it, it shows just a reality of force structure. Everybody thinks they are a general in their head, which is fine, and everybody thinks they are a military genius, which is fine, but when you say, for example, let us pivot to Asia, okay, look at the numbers.

First of all, Asia is primarily a maritime theater; 70% of our Navy is in Asia. Now, if we move the other 30% there, we literally could not do anything anywhere else in the world. If you look at the data, which is in the index, the Navy pivoted to Asia a long time ago, and if you want more navy in Asia, you are going to have to basically build more navy.

90% of the U.S. Army is permanently stationed in the United States, so you cannot really pivot the army because our army is not big enough to actually forward position significant military forces in any theater. We keep it all in the United States so we can go any way we want, so there is no army to pivot. There is really not massive force structure to take out of Europe and put anywhere.

Robert R. Reilly:

What about, Jim, just what about the significant army presence in South Korea and also in Europe?

James Carafano:

It is tiny. It is minuscule.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, 27,000.

James Carafano:

It is 10% of the US military when you count active and reserve, and we do because you should count active and reserve and National Guard because we use all those forces. Our air force is distributed all over the world, but we are the literally the only country in the world that deploys globally with our air force, so it really does not matter where our air force is. It can move anywhere, and as a matter of fact, it is actually advantageous to have it spread around because you can get to places with vastly more access, so you cannot really look at where the air force’s position [is] and talk about pivots. And the space force is in space, so there really is no military to actually pivot. So people that say that either are not looking at the numbers, or they are just ignoring the numbers.

Robert R. Reilly:

You know, Jim, a couple weeks ago the Congress passed a defense supplemental bill of $20 billion with the idea of helping to reinvigorate the industrial base a little bit and catch up on munitions and the motors that are needed for various missiles, cruise missiles, etc. Were you encouraged by that, that it reflects some cognizance of the magnitude of the problem, though $20 billion obviously will not solve it?

James Carafano:

Right, no, absolutely. I mean, if people are concerned about our industrial base and the cost of things, you know, the answer to that is we have basically a private sector industrial base. It sizes to support the customer, which is the United States. If we are not buying stuff, they are not making stuff, and I am not saying you should grow the defense budget just to keep the defense industry alive.

If you want a defense industry to deliver, and to deliver at a reasonable cost, the customer has to buy stuff. There is a reason why, you know, car companies are not selling electric vehicles. [It is] because people are not buying them, and so what is going to happen? They are going to stop making them, right? And the government can subsidize that, but that means we spend a lot of money on something we do not really need.

In defense, if you want a reasonable defense stuff, you have to buy stuff, so the strategy that I – and this is me personally speaking, right, is sustained spending over time is the best way to sustain defense infrastructure. It is like when you graduate college you start putting money in your bank account for retirement, and if you do that, a little money over time, eventually over the years you are in great shape, whereas if you wait until you are 65 before you invest the cost of having money at that time is just astronomical.

What we tend to do in our government is we tend to do this sine wave thing where we blow a lot of money when there is a problem, and then we starve the military when there isn’t [a problem], and what happens is, you know, our costs of maintenance, of sustainability of equipment, of arsenals, and the industrial base they go up and down, and so things might be extraordinarily expensive. If we invested consistently over time, that cost would be dramatically lower.

Now. having said that, we are in a situation because we had significant years of underinvestment. Well, first of all, if you look at the Bush years, that was not really investment. We spent a lot more money on defense, but all of it went to consumables. We burned it up in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the Obama years, you know, we took a peace dividend on a wartime military, so we significantly underinvested, and you can see that very clearly in the index. We dropped significantly. Trump came in [with] four years of investment, [and] things got a little better. Biden came in and went right back to under investigating.

And now if you want to say we want to have sufficient military power so we can deter China and Iran and Russia conventionally, confidently, that requires a significant military buildup. That gets to a real serious problem that we have now which is if you look at every military buildup that we have ever done it was through deficit spending, and the problem now is we have a massive national debt, and so the notion of doing kind of the typical defense buildup, we will just put on the credit card, [is unrealistic]. How do you do that without significantly exacerbating an ongoing problem?

And that is a real problem for a president because the only way you can really do that is to reduce federal spending in other areas to free up money for it. And it is always easy to say, well, we will be smarter, you know, we will not waste money, you know. All of these things sound great, but at the end of the day if you are not putting money in the accounts to buy stuff, you are not going to get there, and so if you are concerned about blowing up the national debt and rebuilding defense, you are going to have to rejigger federal spending priorities.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, and I could not agree with you more that the stop start funding does not work for a consistent military.

James Carafano:

But on the other hand, people say, well, how is this affordable? Well, look, if you just take the amount of waste, fraud, and abuse in the Inflation Reduction Act and the Build Back Better Act and the Covid Relief Act, that money essentially could have paid [or at least] would have been a massive down payment on a defense bill. And remember all that money, anything that goes into fraud, waste, and abuse, the taxpayer gets nothing for that other than debt. There is no value whatsoever, and so it is not about, oh, we should be building school buses and not tanks. What you are doing is you are spending money on stuff that has no value whatsoever because it is just going to fraud, waste, and abuse, and you are not spending money on defense.

And when people complain about the defense budget, and defense spending, and everything else, you know, for example, you look at one of these aid packages, and go that is $60 billion, oh my god, that is a massive amount of money. That is dwarfed just by the fraud in the covid relief bill.

Robert R. Reilly:

I do not know if you know Jeb Nader, who was a colleague when I was working in the Pentagon. His reaction to this $20 billion supplemental was generally favorable, of course, but he says, “If the benchmark is against the calendar and the clock, we are still falling behind every month and this cannot go unnoticed by China,” and of course, by others, so it is a broadly reported phenomenon that our industrial base has been eroded.

And the length of time it is going to take to restock on the munitions that we have given Ukraine to expend is sometimes as long as five years. Why? Because the industrial basis is not there to double production, and it costs a lot to get that capital equipment to double the capacity.

Well, there are two things. One is the number one defense requirement that we have right now is naval, if you are talking about deterring China, and a lot of the munitions for that have not been depleted because the kind of stuff we are giving to the Ukrainians is not the kind of stuff that we are going to use in a war with Taiwan. But having said that, those munition stocks are completely inadequate, you know, so for example, the Japanese buy F35s and all kinds of stuff. Basically, the Japanese Air Force can fly three sorties and they are out of munitions, so we have a huge munition problem, and we have a huge shortfall in naval force structure.

And then the typical way in peace time that we respond to this is, ah, just cut money from the army, cut money from the air force, cut money from strategic weapons. Well, that is not going to work, right, because, first of all, virtually every war that we fight today is joint, so even in a naval war the navy relies heavily on the army and the air force and the space force, so it is like going to the doctor and the doctor says you have a brain aneurysm and a bad heart, and you know blood cancer, which one do you want me to cure? And the guy says, well, doc, you need to kind of cure all three because if you cure one and I die from the other two, well, that is the problem here.

You cannot just say, well, let us build up the navy, and we will just take money from the others, right? It is a challenge of how you sustain the force structure that we have, and really put significant investments into arsenals and naval forces. And you cannot just say, well, let’s just buy a bunch of drones, or let’s just buy a bunch of this, or let’s just do cyber, or let’s do that, because the reality is as we have seen in battlefields like Ukraine [that] you cannot do that. I mean, you still need armor, and infantry, and air defense, and all this other stuff.

And the other thing you say is, well, allies should do more. I am totally with you, absolutely; allies in Europe, allies in the Pacific, allies in the Middle East, everybody should be stepping up and doing more. Having said that, it is not like they should do more so we can do less. If we can get them to do more, it means the more that we have to do we can close that delta, but we cannot just send in the B team, and think we are going to get it home, and they are going to defend our interest because that ain’t going to work, so they have to do more and we have to do more.

Robert R. Reilly:

As we know our allies in Western Europe, within NATO, have eroded their industrial base to produce what they need, aside from also eviscerating the size of their militaries because, after all, in NATO it is the United States that will save them. Apparently, some of them have been sobered up by the war in Ukraine and the Russian proximity to them should Ukraine lose.

Now, by the way, the Air Force can no longer be upset by the index because it gives it a pretty good drubbing. I think that they will be pleased in that respect.

James Carafano:

Well, maintenance, maintenance and training hours, are really killing the Air Force.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yeah, my son was a marine officer and had two tours in Japan, which he loved, and when they would go on maneuvers, whether it was in Okinawa or near Camp Fuji, he could see the amount of equipment that needed to be cannibalized to get in the field so that some planes were stripped to give parts to other planes so they could get off the ground. And that had also an effect on regular ground equipment.

James Carafano:

We call those closet cleans.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yeah. Now, on the naval shortages, which, again, you hit pretty hard in this index for good reason, we are nowhere near the 300 ships that we need to have. Meanwhile, China now has around 400 ships.

James Carafano:

You know, just a point on the ship, because people always say, well, our ships are better. Yeah, that is true, but a ship can only be in one place at a time, so you can have the world’s best ship, but it can still only be in one place, so there is a point where numbers matter. And in the Pacific Theater, I cannot stress this enough, building up maritime forces is the single most important thing.

And [for] the Europeans, it is different. I mean, a lot has changed in Europe. As you just said, a lot of European allies are taking this more seriously, but it is very, very different than it used to be. We used to think that the way we are going to deter the Russians is we were going to put lots of divisions along the border of NATO. That is not true anymore. I mean, we have seen the Russian military, conventional military, is not really that great. It has been significantly attritted.

And the other thing that has changed is now that we have added Finland and Sweden to Nato, if you think about the Russians, where they – let’s say Ukraine survives and it builds up a sufficient military. You have got them, you have got the Poles that are rearming, you have Romania on that flank, you have Finland and Sweden. That is a pretty substantial block to the Russians, and so it is not about conventional forces on the border.

The future of conventional deterrence is deep strike, killing all that Russian stuff before it ever crosses the border. I mean, that is the lesson we learned from Ukraine; kill everything before it gets to the border. You do not need 100 million thousand more troops in Europe, and American divisions, and stuff. You need a lot of deep strike, and all the stuff that goes with that, and you need air and missile defenses to protect your civilian population. And if those frontline countries continue to develop their militaries, we are going to be fine, so that is different.

In the Middle East, you know, it is really about geopolitics. I mean, we have just created this mess for ourselves in letting Iran run wild, and so it is really not needing a massive additional military force in the Middle East. It is really working in better concert with our allies about what we have to actually deter Iran, so as grave as it looks when you look at the numbers, these problems are solvable if you take them seriously.

One thing that is interesting – because obviously, the three really pacing military threats are Iran, Russia, and China. And I know you can say, well, all of them. Well, they do not match the United States, but if you add Iran, Russia, and China together as a problem, that problem set is as significant as the Soviets during the Cold War.

But the one thing that all three of them have in common is they want to win without fighting. I mean, it does not mean they do not want to have wars, but they really do not want to fight a war with us. They really do not want to get into a conventional war with the United States. That is the one single advantage that we have. As long as the three of them fear conventional war with the United States, this is a manageable problem, but what that means is we have to have sufficient conventional military capability to actually deter them.

And the strategic umbrella is important, but what makes the strategic umbrella valuable, and actually serves as a deterrent, is the fact that you win on that, you can defeat an enemy on the conventional level. One thing we have learned is if people cannot win a conventional war, they are not going to start a nuclear war, so if you want your nuclear deterrent to be scary, let people know that they cannot beat you up on the ground.

If you look at all this together, the challenge that the United States has – I mean, even if you look at the money, you know, we are in a terrible fiscal situation from a government perspective, but we are still an incredibly wealthy and productive economy. We can afford to defend ourselves, but we need two things. One is we have to have fiscally responsible federal policies. We have to invest in the things that we actually need, and this is really, really important – our allies have to do their part.

We cannot babysit the world, and so in Europe, for example, people have to get over thinking it is either, like, free American security like we used to have, you know, or Americans just abandon us. The reality is we are not going to do either one of those things. The ages of free American security, whether in the Pacific, in the Middle East, or in Europe, those are over. We cannot afford to do it even if we wanted to, and we are just not going to do that. On the other hand, we are not going to abandon anybody, so the reality is somewhere in between. We have to do more, and you have to do more.

This is where we really need to get to serious strategy, serious acquisition, serious policies. Unfortunately, today what we mostly have is, you know, we used to say that politics ends at the water’s edge, right, and the reality today is we have made foreign policy an extension of politics, so we have a government that cares more about exporting our politics overseas than protecting our interests, so it is more important than the defense relationship, and that has got to change. It is just that simple. If we are vulnerable, like having an open border, essentially giving all of our enemies an open attack menu into the United States, if we are vulnerable, it is not because our enemies are necessarily really getting all that much stronger, it is because we are just being careless.

Remember how a company will say you have a fiduciary responsibility, you have employees, you have a company, you have products, you have customers, you have a responsibility to ensure that you are responsibly exercising your duties to all those constituents, and yet we have a federal government that does not treat defense that way. They do not feel like they have a responsibility to actually provide defense that is reasonable and responsible and adequate.

Robert R. Reilly:

I agree with your excellent remarks about deterrence. That is a theory which our enemies also are aware of. I do not think the PRC wants a war with the United States. They, as you said of others, want to win without war. And how are they going to do that? They are going to do it, and they are trying to do it, by building up their conventional [forces]. Well, they are also building up their nuclear strategic forces, but their Naval and Armed forces to such an extent that it would be clear to the United States or anyone else to engage in a war with China would be futile because they would win, so why bother?

And that is the problem. The naval situation is compounded by the erosion of our industrial base. We are only now producing one submarine a year. We do not have the naval yards, should the money arrive, or the skilled workers to improve upon this. There is an erosion in welders and other people who know how to do these kinds of jobs.

Now, when I just give you that one statistic, I want to contrast this for just a moment with the productivity of the United States during World War II. We had a huge industrial base at that time, and the private sector was galvanized and also ordered to transform their production into military products, and so here is what they did.

These are the production statistics. From the summer of 1940 to the summer of 1945, they produced 141 aircraft carriers, three battleships, 807 Cruisers, destroyers, and Destroyer escorts, 203 submarines 88,410 tanks and self-propelled guns, 257,000 artillery pieces, 2.6 million machine guns 41 billion rounds of ammunition – and listen to this one – 170 aircraft per day, 324,750 aircrafts over the course of the war.

Well, yeah. We cannot do that anymore. We cannot even get to two submarines a year.

James Carafano:

Well, you know, I have to say, though, it is a self-correcting problem. I mean, we do have an industrial base which is adaptive and will respond to the needs of the customer if the demand is there over time. I mean, we have seen, you know, miraculous things [that] they have done in short order just, for example, in munitions production because there is a demand there. And if there is a sustained demand over time, the market will respond, and in the end this will out outpace the Chinese.

And to your point, though, in some ways it is easier to do what you just described from World War II. We had to take 40% of our GDP to generate that. We do not need 40% of our GDP, but we have to put the demand signal out there. Otherwise, we are not going to sustain that over time. If we want to build five submarines a year, there are lots of people that will get the workforce and build the plans to build five submarines a year, but the requirement has to be there. [If] there is no requirement, there is not going to be a force structure.

You would look today and say why aren’t the Europeans? They are beginning to, [but] why aren’t they building munitions plants right and left? Because no government has ordered munitions. If you look at these million rounds, the checks are going to people that have artillery rounds sitting around and buying them. They are not investing in munitions plants. I mean, there are some countries that are actually starting to do that, including the Ukrainians and the Hungarians and a few others. You know, we said the arsenal of democracy [worked]. It will absolutely totally deliver, but you have to ask it to deliver.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, you know, Jim, as you well remember – as I do because I served in the administration, President Reagan addressed the American people, made clear the nature of the threat under which we were, as well as our allies, and said that our defenses had been degraded for a considerable period of time and it was time for a major military buildup, and that would have to come in the budget, and you mentioned earlier that included a lot of deficit spending. But by 1984, the United States was spending 6% of its GDP on the military, and that did put sufficient pressure on our enemies that they were dispirited, and in the case of the Soviet Union they imploded.

Now, today we are spending about 3.4% of our GDP on the military, and that is below the 50-year average, which was 4.4%. President Biden has spoken about the threats under which we are under today, and then he puts out a defense budget that because of inflation includes an actual decline in defense spending, there is a big disconnect there.

James Carafano:

Right, there are two things on that. One is it is not as scary as it seems, because as you pointed out it does take time for the market to respond, so it is not like we could go to 8% tomorrow if we wanted to because there is just not enough [capacity], but what you have to do is get on the glide path and create the demand signal. So it is not like you have to deliver all that money today, it is like a down payment on the future. It is like do not be freaked out that your house price is whatever, you do not have to pay it all up front, but you have got to get started and set that demand signal, so it is a lot more doable than people think. You do not have to go today from 3.4% to 6% of GDP, but you have to get on the path, that is the important thing.

The other thing is, and the Reagan example is a really good example, you know, Ronald Reagan did not get elected president to rebuild defense, the Pentagon, but he was trusted, and so when Ronald Reagan went to the American people and said we need to invest in defense, they did it, not because they said oh my God, you know, the Russians are coming over, they did it because they believed in their president and they trusted him. And to your point when you say, oh, there are these terrible threats out there and then you put out a defense budget which does not reflect the reality of that, that does not engender trust, but the reality is the president is the commander-in-chief. The president runs foreign policy. Nothing happens at the Pentagon unless the president pushes it to go in that direction.

I mean, for example, you know, again, how could anybody be credible about the defense of this country and have an open border policy that leaves us more vulnerable today, today – we are more vulnerable – than we were, actually, on September 11th, 2001? To me that is a real credibility issue. Yeah, so these are some real issues that I think people have to [understand].

And I know we are kind of running out of time, but to kind of take it back full circle, the reason why we put the index out there is we are not dictating what policy should be or force level should be, or even how much we should spend, but we do argue it should be an informed debate both for the leaders and for Americans, and so we put the data out there so people can and should kind of make up their own minds.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, what you do is really incontestable, as you point out, because they are hard numbers.

James Carafano:

Yeah, well, I think so.

Robert R. Reilly:

Anyone can find the outside sources pretty easily.

I want to mention one other dispiriting thing that is revealed in the index, or reflected in the index I should say, and that is the US Army cannot grow because it cannot even maintain its current size because it has such a huge recruitment problem.

James Carafano:

Yeah, and there are two reasons for that. You know, by the way, the Army and the other services are making their recruiting goals for two reasons. One is they lowered the goals, and the other is they are spending a ton more on recruiting. But you know, it is a shocking fact that 70% of American youth are not qualified or eligible for military service because of physical conditions and everything else, so we as a nation have to ask, you know, what is wrong that we do not even have people who are capable of serving in the military.

But also look at what the military is doing. We have invested so much money in the social agenda and all these issues, none of which are actually contributing to military readiness or capability, having more of anything in the Army does not make you [safer]. People keep saying, well, diversity is strength. Well, this is utter and complete nonsense. Diversity is politics. What makes a military stronger is having people who are capable doing military stuff. That is all there is to it. It is just that simple.

And we have, I believe, politicized military policy to an unprecedented degree, and it actually has gotten to the point that it has impacted on military readiness, it has impacted on the confidence in the military, and it has impacted on people having a propensity to serve in the military because, like, why should I join a military that is just going to play politics, you know? I want to join a military because I want to serve my country, and if the military is not a place to do that, I will just go do something else. That is the problem.

Robert R. Reilly:

Interestingly, in my son’s artillery unit more than half of the marines serving in it were not American citizens. They were from foreign countries, most of them African, and they made very fine marines, there was no question about that. So that in a way is a reflection [of the situation], even though the marines are the ones who have the smallest recruitment problem if one at all. People still want to [serve in the marines].

James Carafano:

Yeah, in fairness to the marines, they are also minuscule compared to the others.

Robert R. Reilly:

Yes, it is a lower number to begin with. There is so much to do and so little time to do it.

James Carafano:

People have to get over this thing and say we do not have time to fix this. I think it is the wrong way to approach it. If we want to solve this problem in the long term, we need to tackle this problem for the long term, so get started moving in the right direction, and you can fix everything. If you do like what we always do, we call it a crisis, we throw 20 bucks at it, and then we say we are done, we are going to be right back where we started. There is a difference between running out and paying $300 bucks for a guy to patch your roof every time there is a hole in the roof, or just knuckling down and buying a new roof, and then, you know, paying it on the installment plan, so this is not something that can be fixed with crisis management. This is something that can only be fixed by sustained investment and engagement over time by our leaders, and that is what we really, really need.

Robert R. Reilly:

Let me mention one thing that was not in the index, maybe because it is hard to quantify it, and that is our information warfare capabilities.

James Carafano:

…and that is why it is not in there. We made a conscious decision not to measure things we could not measure, so for example there is some covert stuff and then the cyber thing. There is just no objective way to measure cyber. We are not saying it is not important, we are just saying if we cannot measure it, we do not include it. But as you put, the cyber piece is crucial.

Microsoft just announced that they are completely revamping the entire company’s approach to security. This is a company with a budget that equals the Defense Department because security in the cyberspace system is such a massive issue, so I am not dismissing the issue. It is absolutely crucial, but I cannot measure it. I cannot measure adversary capabilities either.

Robert R. Reilly:

Right, it is not a quantifiable thing in terms of its programs and its effects. However, the capabilities are quantifiable even if you have the capabilities.

James Carafano:

Well, yeah, I mean, the problem is a lot of them are covert, and you cannot talk about those.

Robert R. Reilly:

Well, that is [true], but there a lot of them are not covert, and the United States used to have, as you well know, the United States Information Agency, in which I once worked, [which] was telling our side of the story and undermining our enemies. We do not do that anymore. There is no U.S. Information Agency. Remaining institutions that should be doing that, [like] the Voice of America, has lost its sense of mission in that respect, and those capabilities were supposedly transferred over to the State Department, which does not do public diplomacy well. It does private diplomacy.

James Carafano:

You have to be able to measure inputs and outputs, right, so in other words this is what I get for this, and this is what it actually delivers, and if you cannot do that, you know, [you cannot measure and compare]. The other thing is, as you know, there are multiple elements of NA, national power, you know, foreign policy, and they all matter, and they are all relevant, but I would say two things. One is they are not fungible, and you get this nonsense all the time.

Well, let’s spend more money on information warfare, and then we can spend less money on defense. Well, that is nonsense. They are two different things. I think you have to measure them each in their own lane, and so this one is just on the defense lane, and as you know, how many employees were in the U.S. Information Agency? Well, that is not a metric that tells you anything. It just tells you how many people you are employing. How many TV programs do they put out? Well, that does not tell you anything because it does not tell you about the impact that they are having.

As a strategist you look at all the elements of national power you bring to the table, which is one of the reasons why we look at the debt, for example, because our economy and the strength of our economy is an element of power that we have. All of these things are important, but what we tend to do as politicians is we throw money at the stuff we like, and we do not throw money at the other stuff.

We throw lots of money at a green transition because that is going to solve the world’s problems, but then we are neglecting, as you said, you know, the real functions of the State Department [and] real Defense Department stuff.

Robert R. Reilly:

I just want to give you one anecdote. When I went over to the Defense Department, and I guess it was 2002, 2003, they were aching for certain things to be done, which really was not in the Defense Department’s purview. Because there was not a public diplomacy undertaking, they wanted to do it. In fact, I wanted to do it, and we did a bit, and it just simply took about 10 times as much work to get the funding and field something than it would have at USIA because that was its mission. But there was a sense of frustration that was felt that it was an unmet need. That is all I want to say about that.

Jim, the index is very clear that these numbers do not win wars, there is more than just how many tanks you have, and indeed, we have gone to wars where we simply had a mismatch between the mission and our means. Iraq is a very good example. Militarily, it was a situation that was successfully dealt with by the U.S. military in fairly short order. I was in Baghdad when the announcement was made that we had not come simply to liberate the Iraqis, which was the initial mission in which we deployed. All of a sudden, we were going to occupy Iraq. We did not have the forces to occupy Iraq. So the inception of the disaster there was the change of mission without the means in place to achieve the mission.

James Carafano:

Well, I want to say, because you bring up a really good point, which is the other side. It is not just about the elements of National Power of what you bring to the table. It is the ability to actually formulate strategy and identify strategic interests, and then match them, ends, ways, and means. This has become a lot. We have gotten lazy since the end of the Cold War. We have not had a competitor [who] forced to do that.

But part of the reason why the current administration can run around saying, well, we are going to invest everything in green transition and exploiting you know liberal culture, and we are not going to do this other stuff, is it is totally divorced. If you read their strategy, for example, it is not a real strategy. It is divorced from the cold assessment of what are your national interests, what is vital, what is important, what are the ends, ways, and means that you have available, how can you match them, and how can you come up with something that is suitable that will actually address the issue, that is actionable that you can actually do, and is supported.

We do not do that anymore. Instead, we just play politics with these issues, and so you need a serious strategic culture and serious strategic leaders, not just in the Pentagon but in the State Department, White House, political leaders in the Congress, as well as an adequate force structure, and that is what deters enemies. I mean, again, I am not political guy, but I am just saying, I mean, part of the reason why the last president was effective was because our enemies feared him, that he said he was a peace through strength president and he was not afraid to do that.

He did not want to do nation building. He did not want to do regime change. He did not want to fight endless wars, but if you mess with America’s vital interests, he was going to smack you over the head, and they believed him. So it is both of those things that really, really matter.


Robert R. Reilly:

Well, Jim, I would like to thank you very much for appearing on the program today to discuss the U.S. military index for 2024, published by the Heritage Foundation, and for discussing whether the U.S. military can meet its match today. Jim, thanks for joining us. I will just tell our audience members that we invite you to the Westminster Institute web page where you can see the other programs we have done over the years, some of them addressing subjects like this and then also Ukraine, Russia, China, Taiwan, Japan, and so forth, so please indulge yourselves if you see something interesting there. Thank you for joining us today. I am Robert Reilly.