What should a country spend on defense? Eisenhower vs. Gates

What should a country spend on defense? Eisenhower vs. Gates









In another example of the differences between the U.S. and Europe, today Reuters reported that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is upset with Europe for underfunding defense and “undermining shared security goals”.

His comments prompted me to look up former President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address to compare their perspectives on military spending.

Eisenhower was a 5 Star General and Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during WWII. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of France and Germany at the end of the war. In 1951 he became the first supreme commander of NATO. Later he oversaw the cease-fire in the Korean war, pressured the Soviet Union in the beginning of the Cold War, and made nuclear weapons a defense priority.

Robert Gates served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, worked for 26 years in the C.I.A. and National Security Council, and under President George H. W. Bush as Director of Central Intelligence. He was also the top choice to serve as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which he declined. He replaced Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense in 2006.  

I respectfully submit some of Robert Gates’ 2010 comments alongside some of Eisenhower’s 1961 comments.

(Note: All of Eisenhower’s comments are taken from his 1961 Farewell Address speech on Wikisource and all of Gates’ comments are taken from this Reuters article. Comments from both men are excerpted and not in any specific order.)



"The demilitarization of Europe ... has gone from a blessing in the 20th century to an impediment to achieving real security and lasting peace in the 21st," – Gates, 2010.

“Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent, I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war, as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.” –Eisenhower, 1961



"Not only can real or perceived weakness be a temptation to miscalculation and aggression, but, on a more basic level, the resulting funding and capability shortfalls make it difficult to operate and fight together to confront shared threats." – Gates, 2010.

“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or, indeed, by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry...we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions…We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual --is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” –Eisenhower, 1961

Note: Eisenhower's original draft of the 1961 farewell address called the Military-Industrial Complex the "military-industrial-congressional complex."

Photo Credits: Eisenhower-cliff1066, Gates-eschipul (via Flickr under CCL)

See part 2 for more.