Cheney, the former defense secretary and now GOP vice presidential candidate, said troops that were victorious in the Persian Gulf War have been hurt by spending cuts "far beyond any careful weighing of the national interest."
"A commander in chief leads the military built by those who came before him," Cheney said in a speech to the Southern Center on International Studies. "That is why we were able to win the Gulf War - because we were commanding a military rebuilt in the 1980s," said Cheney, who was defense secretary under President Bush.
The speech came one week after Cheney was called on to defend the military cuts that he had overseen as Pentagon chief, many of them related to the end of the Cold War. Cheney said Wednesday he cut "what was no longer needed and nothing more."
The military budget began dropping after 1985, the high point under President Reagan. It continued to decline under the Bush administration and through most of the Clinton administration, although it has been up in the past two years.
Cheney said the buildup under Reagan enabled President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to send troops on overseas deployments. He said today's military is "still the most formidable in the world" but is woefully underfunded, putting troops at higher risk if the country were to have to fight wars.
He also dismissed Gore's complaint that Republican talk of a weakened U.S. military was sending the wrong message to potential adversaries around the world.
"I can clear it up for Mr. Gore right now," said Cheney. "What lessons do they draw from the fact that this administration has failed to safeguard our nation's most vital national secrets," a reference to security problems at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
"Our military today is overused and under-resourced," said Cheney. "This has brought on serious problems of readiness, recruiting, retention and morale."
Cheney said defense spending today is lower as a percentage of the nation's total economy than at any time since 1940 - the year before the attack on Pearl Harbor.