Front Page
NMJ Search
NMJ Radio
Constitutional Literacy
NMJ Shop
Links, Etc...
Site Information
About Us
Contact Us
  US Senate
  US House

Social Bookmarking
Print this page.
The Four Great Waves of Defense Neglect
Peter Huessy, The Gatestone Institute
January 10, 2014
America's fourth wave of neglect of its military since the end of World War II may have disastrous geostrategic consequences.

While Congress has passed a temporary slowdown in the decline in American defense spending with a two-year budget framework, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement, which restores $32 billion to the Department of Defense, the projected defense resources available for the next eight years will not allow the United States to protect its own security, let alone that of its allies.

Taken together, as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff warned, previous and projected cuts to military budgets from 2009-2023 threaten dangerously to undermine the stability required for both economic prosperity and relative peace among the world's major military powers, as well as America's global standing.

One of the nation's top defense analysts sums it up: "The reality is, for all its promise, the Ryan-Murray budget agreement still only addresses less than 7 percent of the defense sequester. Much more work needs to be done to lift the specter of sequestration once and for all..."

The First Wave of Neglect, 1945-1950
After World War II, US security suffered. The decline in defense spending after 1945 was large, $90 billion down to $14 billion at the beginning of the first year after the war's end (FY1947 or July 1, 1946). With the end of World War II, support for a strong US military was not a sure thing.

While the Marshall Plan, or European Economic Recovery Plan, did stop a significant portion of the planned expansion of the Soviets into Europe, these efforts consisted primarily of significant American economic assistance and the transfer of surplus military equipment to designated countries, with some American personnel transferred for training purposes as well - but without the deployment of American soldiers.

Despite the success of the Marshall Plan, however, serious security threats remained in the post-WWII period. The communists threatened to come to power in Turkey and Greece and succeeded in taking power in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 -- a move, it was feared, that would imperil the freedom of other states of Europe.

A few months later, on May 15, 1948, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria, after rejecting the UN supported partition plan, invaded Israel, an attack that set off what is now 75 years of continued attempts to displace or destroy the Jewish state.

The next month, on June 24, 1948, the Soviets imposed a blockade on West Berlin. According to Lucius Clay, the military governor of the American zone of occupied Germany: "When the order of the Soviet Military Administration to close all rail traffic from the western zones went into effect at 6:00AM on the morning of June 24, 1948, the three western sectors of Berlin, with a civilian population of about 2,500,000 people, became dependent on reserve stocks and airlift replacements. It was one of the most ruthless efforts in modern times to use mass starvation for political coercion..." A top secret document at the time described the Soviet action as the first act of the new Cold War.

Many observers believe the Soviet action actually backfired: they sped up the establishment of the new Federal Republic of Germany and helped spur the April 4, 1949 creation of NATO. A month later, in May, the Soviets lifted the Berlin blockade.

Elsewhere, however, the situation did not improve. On August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union exploded its first nuclear weapon. A little more than a month later, on October 1, 1949, China fell to the communists under Mao Zedong.

Despite the creation of NATO, the emerging Cold War, and the Soviets' explosion of a nuclear weapon, American defense spending continued to be neglected, dropping to $13.5 billion by July of 1950, -- a full 7% cut from the year before. During 1947-49, the first Secretary of Defense, James Forrestal, continually fought the Truman administration's interest in cutting defense to as low as $7 billion annually, a number supported by strong isolationist elements in Congress.

As a result of opposition within the Truman administration to Forrestal's support for a strong defense, he resigned March 1, 1949. The new Defense Secretary, Louis Johnson, was, unlike Forrestal, all for cutting defense. Under his watch, 80% of the "needed equipment" purchases for the Army were postponed -- a delay which, as the administration testified to Congress, "would make the Army force levels...more effective.

In an echo of subsequent American political debates over the next half century, the new Secretary of Defense and the Truman administration apparently saw large government spending -- including defense spending -- as bad for the US economy. After all, the 1945 recession caused GDP to fall a whopping 10.6%, and even by 1949 another recession hit while unemployment reached 7.9% and GDP fell 0.5%.

In December 1949, for example, to justify further defense budget cuts, then Defense Secretary Louis Johnson told the commander of the US Atlantic and Mediterranean fleet, Admiral Richard Conolly: "Admiral, the Navy is on its way out. There's no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We'll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy."

Unwilling to strengthen the US military even in anticipation of the need to help its new NATO allies, the Truman administration tried a different tack. It asked Congress to provide economic security funding for its friends in Greece, Turkey and, early in 1950, South Korea, rather than to reinforce our own military forces to provide these allies a stronger security umbrella.

Although Greece and Turkey were successfully helped with approval of assistance by the Congress, passage of similar but much smaller legislation to help Korea failed in the House by one vote, leaving America's Korean allies without US backing.

This failed effort to assist the Republic of Korea was followed by remarks delivered by Secretary of State Dean Acheson in early 1950. He said that for American purposes, South Korea was beyond its security perimeter, a remark that many would later interpret as a careless and implicit invitation for would-be aggressors to invade South Korea.

To be fair, Acheson added that the UN could be relied upon "to protect a nation's security" but then compounded his original comments by asserting that whatever problems were faced by East Asia, "any guarantee against military attack is hardly sensible."

This assessment followed an intelligence report to the President that concluded North Korea might invade the Republic of Korea [ROK], but that it had no capability to invade its southern neighbor without the assistance of the Soviets. That assessment, in turn, led to the further conclusion among members of the intelligence community that no such threat existed for some number of years because Moscow was not going to sanction such aggression. (See Intelligence Memos #302-06 referenced below).

America's problems were not limited to just intelligence failures. By 1950, Defense Secretary Johnson "had established a policy of faithfully following President Truman's defense economization policy, and had aggressively attempted to implement it even in the face of steadily increasing external threats posed by the Soviet Union and its allied Communist regimes. He consequently received much of the blame for the initial setbacks in Korea and the widespread reports of ill-equipped and inadequately trained US forces."

Further, Secretary Johnson's "failure to adequately plan for US conventional force commitments, to adequately train and equip current forces, or even to budget funds for storage of surplus Army and Navy war-fighting materiel for future use in the event of conflict would prove fateful after war broke out on the Korean Peninsula".

Compounding US problems was that the Truman administration assumed that the US monopoly on atomic weaponry would preserve American and allied security and not require a major increase in conventional military investments.

What the US intelligence community did not know was that, as Julius Rosenberg had delivered American atomic secrets to Moscow, the Soviets had received critical help to build an atomic weapon.

Thus, long before the US intelligence community thought possible, the Soviets successfully tested a nuclear weapon in August 1949, an accomplishment that was most certainly a factor in the decision of the Soviet Premier, Josef Stalin, to support the invasion of the Republic of Korea by the North – an act that the US intelligence community was convinced the Soviets would not do.

Apparently, as archival material implies, Stalin was convinced the US would not respond to help the Republic of Korea, and, like the leader of North Korea, Stalin saw the "liberation" of China as simply a prelude to the "liberation of South Korea."

In short, the US intelligence community knew that Moscow had exploded an atomic device, but, even after the outbreak of the Korean war, did not seem to integrate the new circumstances into its intelligence assessments.

On July 8, 1950, for instance, some two weeks after the North Korean invasion, the Truman White House received an intelligence brief concluding that "Soviet intentions in supporting the Korean invasion were unknown."

As for possible future Chinese involvement in the war, the memo stated that, "...movements of large troop formations from South and Central China toward [North Korea] are largely discounted."

It appears likely, therefore, that the post-World War II defense neglect, coupled with erroneous intelligence assessments, played a key role in the lack of readiness of US forces as they came to the rescue of the ROK in 1950.

It is also likely that the excessive drawdown of US military spending within the Truman administration in the immediate post World War II period sent the wrong signals to America's adversaries, as well as harming US military readiness.

Further, the less-than-stellar Truman administration's verbal support for the Republic of Korea, as well as the failure of Congress to supply the ROK with even a small amount of economic assistance, may also have led Stalin to conclude that an invasion of the ROK would not be contested by the United States.

Yet, despite massive shortages of equipment and serious readiness deficiencies, the US eventually saved the ROK from communist tyranny, but only at a cost of 35,000 American lives and those of an estimated 5 million Koreans.

Ironically, parallel to this policy of neglect, pro-military forces within the Truman administration sought to put together for America's role in the world, a strategic vision and plan that would confront the threat of a nuclear-armed Soviet Union. This objective became an imperative for these administration people, particularly after the Soviet test-explosion of a nuclear weapon in August 1949.

Even then, the Secretary of Defense at the time, Louis Johnson attempted to dismiss the nuclear radiation from the explosion as the result of an industrial accident, and not a real weapons test.

Thw new strategic vision was codified in a new national security defense directive (NSDD 28), which recognized the extraordinary threat to America and its allies from a nuclear-armed Soviet Union -- no longer the partner with which the allied forces had won World War II.

The primary author of the report was Paul Nitze, later the founder of the Committee on the Present Danger, which, in three separate instances (1950, 1976 and 2004) would warn Americans that the threats it then faced were deadly and could not continually be ignored.

Shortly after Nitze's NSDD was formally adopted by the Truman administration in April 1950, President Harry S. Truman was told that such a national security policy would also require an estimated $41 billion a year in DOD spending for its implementation.

When contrasted to the then $13-14 billion defense budget, the implications were serious. How could the Truman administration support a security policy that implied the need for a defense budget 300% higher than its own supported defense program?

On June 25, 1950, North Korea's invasion of the ROK ended the debate. By mid-1951, defense spending reached $24 billion a year, peaking at $44 billion in 1953. After the Korean War ended, the war effort spending-level was significantly cut and the defense budget fell from $44 billion to $36 billion.

Despite the defense budget gradually increasing to $43.1 billion by the end of the decade (FY61 budget), President Dwight Eisenhower, was routinely criticized by both Democrats on Capitol Hill and the defense industry for shortchanging defense. The final defense budget passed under the Eisenhower administration at $43.1 billion (1953-61), was just $2 billion,or 5%, below the $41 billion budget (adjusted for inflation) that had been recommended by the Truman administration's NSDD28 for 1950.

The Eisenhower administration, however, relied on American nuclear weapons for a policy of nuclear massive retaliation in the event of Soviet aggression, a policy thought to be considerably less expensive to implement than an alternative that emphasized conventional capabilities.

To that extent, the critics were right: US conventional military strength did not match that of the Soviets. But to increase American and allied conventional weapons, and match the Soviet and Warsaw Pact conventional forces tank for tank, and artillery piece for artillery piece, would have cost the United States and its allies tens of billions in additional annual defense expenditures that the Eisenhower administration and its allies were unwilling to support.

The Second Wave of Neglect, 1970-1980
The communists in the Kremlin, evidently deciding that, given America's and its allied forces' commitment to "contain" Soviet-led aggression, cross-border wars such as Korea were not likely to succeed, adopted, instead, supporting smaller, more containable guerrilla wars, popularly known as "wars of national liberation."

According to the Assistant Secretary of State for the Far East, William P. Bundy, Cuba, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America had become targets for subversion.

To counter, in part, this Soviet campaign, American military spending increased from $43 billion when President John Kennedy was elected in 1960, to $51 billion in the 1964 election year, and from there to a peak of $83 billion in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War. Tragically, the war was especially divisive, partly due to its length but primarily because of the high casualties the US sustained without any compensatory sense that the war was being won.

Although many experts believe the South Vietnamese and Americans had won the war by 1969, the American withdrawal -- followed by the abandonment of our Saigon allies by Congress in 1975 -- led to the fall of the South Vietnamese government and the imposition of communist rule there and throughout Indochina.

After the United States disengaged from the Vietnam War, and the war costs came to an end, defense spending declined and remained relatively flat for half a decade. Fueled by an intense anti-military sentiment in Congress and among the public at large, so began the second major period of US neglect of its armed services since the end of World War II.

Ironically, after 1975, the defense budget increased by nearly 60% over its 1969 peak. But for three important reasons, in real terms, even these increasing defense budgets were still significantly underfunding the country's defense needs.

The first reason was the cost of paying US soldiers. Although the nation had moved to an all-volunteer military in 1973 under the assumption that absent a draft, future "unpopular" wars such as Vietnam would be impossible to fight, because few would volunteer for such wars (thus reducing defense costs significantly), the proponents of an all-volunteer force failed to anticipate the high personnel costs required to attract such recruits.

Thus, between 1971-5, basic military pay doubled in real term costs, just as the country was transitioning to an all-volunteer military -- in addition to significant costs associated with attracting sufficient soldier volunteers to join the military.

The second key reason was inflation. The Nixon, Ford and Carter administrations all sought to monetize the national debt by first taking the country off the gold standard and then printing money to pay for US deficit spending. Inflation, which reached 14% a year by 1980, required an increase in defense spending of nearly $20 billion for that year alone, just to keep pace with increased costs.

The third reason was dramatically higher oil prices. The proximate cause was the downturn in Iran's oil production after the 1983 oil embargo and the fall of the Shah of Iran. These circumstances caused two recessions (1974-5 and 1980-1), with retail gasoline prices climbing from $0.36 cents a gallon in 1973, to $0.62 cents in 1978, and to $1.18 by 1981.

Therefore, at the same time as inflation accelerated, the country fell into two recessions, a combination that came to be known as "stagflation." It had the effect of increasing the cost to the military for the fuel it used; the cost of military hardware and personnel, due to higher inflation; fueling international tensions, particularly in the Middle East, further stretching US military requirements; and finally, reducing US economic growth and subsequent revenues to the Treasury a combination that increased budget pressures on defense resources just as requirements for greater defense capabilities were on the rise.

As a result, during the 1970s this combination of factors serially delayed the acquisition major weapons systems, including, for example, needed airlift, fighter aircraft, space, nuclear deterrent and army ground combat assets. Research and development funding also failed to keep pace with modernization needs. In short, just as costs to maintain the military were going up (personnel, hardware and fuel), the surge in inflation wiped out any real purchasing power of the modest defense budget increases that were finally adopted during the last five years of the decade.

In addition to these cost pressures, the armed services were also suffering from expansive drug and alcohol abuse, desertions and bad morale. Former Secretary of State and retired General Alexander Haig told this author that, while commander of all allied forces in Europe (SACEUR 1974-1979), as a result of these negative pressures, he had to struggle to keep the military from falling apart.

These factors, when added together, created what came to be described as the "hollow army".

The resultant cost to American security was high. Modernization was delayed, deferred or abandoned, including tactical aircraft, airlift, nuclear forces and ground combat force technologies.

In 2013, the current Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond Odierno, warned that the US might be repeating the same mistake: "I know what is required to send soldiers into combat. And I've seen firsthand the consequences when they are sent unprepared...I began my career [referring to the 1970's] in a hollow Army. I do not want to end my career in a hollow Army."

As United States military spending in the 1970s failed to keep pace with US security needs, nation after nation fell to communism or totalitarianism, including South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Grenada, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Angola, Bangladesh, Chile, and Iran.

Soviet sponsored terrorism grew rapidly as Moscow joined forces with Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam and other terrorism-sponsoring states, as well as their new terrorist creations such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO]; the communist guerrillas in El Salvador, known as the FMLN, and terror groups such as Italy's Red Brigades and Germany's Baader-Meinhof Gang in Europe.

American military action in Cambodia to rescue the freighter Mayaguez (May 1975) and the loss of soldiers in Desert One during the attempted rescue of US diplomats in Iran (April 1980) were less than exemplary bookends to the neglect of America's military in the post-Vietnam era. According to the Soviets, the "correlation of forces" [COF] in the decade of the 1970s had decidedly moved in their direction.

As Mackubin Owen explains: "Indeed, the Soviet military press during this decade was filled with numerous references to the COF. For instance in 1975, General Yevdokim Yeogovich Mal'Tsev wrote that "the correlation of world forces has changed fundamentally in favor of socialism and to the detriment of capitalism." An insight onto the thinking of the time is illustrated by former President James Carter's boast that at the end of his Presidency (1981) his proudest accomplishment was never having used American military forces in combat. As the former President himself put it: "We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. We never went to war".

Continue reading this article...

Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland , a defense and national security consulting firm. Refer to original article for related links and important documentation.


The informational and educational pamphlet series is now available for Kindle and iPad. Click here to find out more...

The New Media Journal and are not funded by outside sources. We exist exclusively on donations from our readers and contributors.
Please make a sustaining donation today.

Opinions expressed by contributing writers are expressly their own and may or may not represent the opinions of, its editorial staff, board or organization.  Reprint inquiries should be directed to the author of the article. Contact the editor for a link request to is not affiliated with any mainstream media organizations. is not supported by any political organization.  Responsibility for the accuracy of cited content is expressly that of the contributing author. All original content offered by is copyrighted. supports and its goal: the liberation of the American voter from partisan politics and special interests in government through the primary-source, fact-based education of the American people.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance a more in-depth understanding of critical issues facing the world. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 USC Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

The Media © 1998-2014    Content Copyright © Individual authors
Powered by ExpressionEngine 1.70 and M3Server