Keeping the Pentagon’s Challenges in Perspective

TIME

New Year’s is a time for resolutions. But resolving requires introspection, something—despite reams of studies, reports and commissions—the U.S. national-security complex seems incapable of doing.

Too often, that’s because partisanship comes into play. As a rule, Republicans want a muscular national-security strategy, with the robust and more costly military that requires. Democrats tend to want the opposite. Those in charge routinely confirm the status quo as if on auto-pilot.

Given that this debate has teeter-tottered since the end of the Cold War, a quarter-century ago, without resolution, perhaps it’s time to ask a different question: is the U.S. military spending its money on the right stuff?

For the sake of argument, let’s pretend spending something around 4% of the nation’s gross domestic product makes sense (the CIA pegs it at 4.35% for 2012; many calculations exclude costs like nuclear warheads and veterans). We can debate the top line another day.

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