Barack Obama’s Priorities for Armament and for the National Defense Budget of the United
Christopher K. Gamble, CEREM, 2 October 2008
With more than $568 billion dollars in defense spending in 2008 and a national defense
budget estimated at $515 billion1 for 2009, the United States spends more on national defense than
any other country in the world. Effective management of this budget in support of American
defense priorities is vital in maintaining America’s military power and will therefore be one of the
greatest challenges facing the next president. While both candidates claim to be the better choice for
America’s next Commander-in-Chief, they contrast sharply in their individual approaches towards
questions of defense as well as in the level of priority they each seem to accord to national defense
on their presidential agenda2. Senator Barack Obama of the Democratic Party has stated that he
will save billions of dollars for the United States by ending the war in Iraq and in limiting wasteful
spending. On the other hand, he proposes several defense initiatives that would increase military
spending, such as the addition of 92,000 soldiers to the armed forces. This paper will briefly
discuss Barack Obama’s national defense priorities, specifically with regard to armament programs
and defense spending. His initiatives will be divided into those that would potentially increase
defense spending and those that would potentially reduce it.
1. Initiatives that Would Reduce Military Spending
A. Ending the War in Iraq and Discontinuing Certain Armament Programs
Senator Obama has stated that he “will stop spending $9 billion a month in Iraq”3 by ending
the war in the first 16 months following his election. Since 2003, the war in Iraq has cost more than
$653 billion4, and several economists foresee a total cost (for both the war and the occupation) of
more than $2.7 trillion by 20175. By ending the war, Obama hopes to be able to divert the saved
resources to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and to modernizing the armed forces. However, by
ending the war, he risks incurring additional costs associated with withdrawing before the country is
adequately stable, like the outbreak of civil wars within Iraq, or opportunist attacks by other nations.
Additionally, he wants to significantly reduce - if not completely stop - investment in
programs that have not, according to him, been “proven”. In this category, he places the Missile
Defense Program, which cost more than $8.8 billion dollars in 2008, and the Future Combat System
(FCS), which cost $3.6 billion in the same year6. Senator Obama has stated that he supports Missile
Defense but that he is not willing to divert resources from other higher priority programs towards its
Senator Obama is also against the weaponization of space, and he will seek a global ban on
all weapons that could disturb the operation of military or civilian satellites.
B. Acquisition Reform and Nuclear Disarmament
If elected president, Obama will try to save money by reforming the military’s acquisition
process. He will end the practice of no-bid contracts. He will also seek to end cost-overruns,
budget abuses, and corruption by companies under government contract, three things that he
considers to be major sources of wasteful spending.
Obama will set a long term goal of a world free of nuclear weapons. In order to achieve
this, he has declared that he will not develop any new nuclear weapons and that he will seek to
obtain a global ban on the production of fissile material. Further, he will negotiate with Russia to
get them to take their intercontinental ballistic missiles off of alert, and in order to reduce the
nuclear arsenals of both countries.
2. Initiatives that would Increase or Maintain Military Spending
A. Improving Military Quality of Life
The men and women in uniform are, for Obama, the most valuable asset of the armed forces.
He proposes, therefore, several initiatives designed to improve the quality of life of each military
member. First, he would like to bring military salaries in line with those of the private sector. He
wishes also to establish more regularity in deployments, in order to improve troop morale. He has
stated that he will end the policy of “Don’t ask, don’t tell”, which relates to homosexuals in
uniform, and that he will discontinue any practices that force soldiers to remain in uniform beyond
the expiration of their enlistment. Further, he will take necessary steps to fight discrimination in
employment against military Reserve members or members of the National Guard.
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Obama would like to improve
the services available to veterans. To this end, he will increase the number of mental health centers
for veterans and will increase spending on care for those wounded in battle.
One initiative that will significantly impact the national defense budget is the addition of
92,000 soldiers to the armed forces, which includes 65,000 to the Army ground forces and 27,000 to
the Marine Corps. Obama believes increasing troop levels is a necessary step in order to better fight
the war in Afghanistan, better reequip and retrain soldiers between deployments, and in order to
reduce the stress on the family members of those deployed.
B. Modernizing the Military
Senator Obama thinks that military training must be modernized in order to more adequately
confront current and future threats. He proposes, therefore, to increase the number of soldiers
specialized in civil affairs, special operations, intelligence, as well as those with regional specialties
and foreign language skills. He would also like to invest more in foreign language training, cultural
awareness, human intelligence, and in other skills that could potentially contribute to
Where military equipment is concerned, Obama will invest more towards the development
of unmanned aerial vehicles, and towards the electronic warfare capabilities of certain aircraft, like
the C-17 or the KC-X. He will seek to maintain United States naval power by investing more in
research and development for naval forces and by replacing aging ships. Additionally, he will
reevaluate the utility of each defense program currently in operation.
Obama will increase the resources committed to the Reserves and to the National Guard8.
He has also stated that he will approve legislation to create a position within the Joint Chiefs of
Staff for the Chief of the National Guard.
Senator Obama has declared that he will reduce military spending by ending the war in Iraq
and by discontinuing certain armament programs, like the Missile Defense program and the FCS.
However, by adding 92,000 new soldiers to the armed forces and by carrying out his initiatives for
modernization, he will effectively increase the national defense budget, which draws criticism from
some of his liberal supporters who would rather see the money spent on social programs9. Faced
with this criticism and with all of the current threats against America’s national security, he will
have to clearly determine his national defense priorities.
During the presidential debate on 26 September 2008, the moderator asked the candidates what their priorities they
had for the national budget in light of the current American financial crisis. Senator McCain responded by saying that
he would institute a temporary spending freeze on everything except national defense, veterans affairs, and certain
entitlement programs. Senator Obama did not even mention national defense.
http://missilethreat.com/archives/id.7086/detail.asp. Another report for Congress gives a figure of $10.3 billion per
month as the spending average for the war in Iraq in 2007. See BELASCO, Amy, CRS Report for Congress. “The Cost
of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11.” 14 July 2008. pp. 25. URL:
BELASCO, Amy, CRS Report for Congress. “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror
Operations Since 9/11.” 14 July 2008. pp. 25. URL: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL33110.pdf
Senator Obama states that the military reserve forces make up 37% of the total force strength but only receive 3% of
the equipment budget and 8% of the total national defense budget.
BOLTON, Alexander. “Left presses Obama to cut defense.” 5 June 2008. URL : http://thehill.com/leading-the-