The US should cut military spending in half
Defense Secretary Gates's military budget cuts are too conservative.
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To understand why that is conservative, consider how much we spend on defense relative to both our purported rivals and our past. Our defense budget is almost half the world's, even leaving out nuclear weapons, the wars, veterans, and homeland security. It is also more than we spent at any point during the cold war. When that struggle ended, we simply gave back the Reagan buildup and kept spending at average cold war levels. Then we began another buildup in 1998 that nearly doubled nonwar defense spending.Skip to next paragraph
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There are no enemies to justify such spending. Invasion and civil war are unthinkable here. North Korea, Syria, and Iran trouble their citizens and neighbors, but with small economies, shoddy militaries, and a desire to survive, they pose little threat to us. Their combined military spending is one-sixtieth of ours.
Russia and China are incapable of territorial expansion that should pose any worry, unless we put our troops on their borders. China's defense spending is less than one-fifth of ours. We spend more researching and developing new weapons than Russia spends on its military. And with an economy larger than ours, the European Union can protect itself. Our biggest security problem, terrorism, is chiefly an intelligence problem arising from a Muslim civil war. Our military has little to do with it.
We should embrace this geopolitical fortune, not look for trouble. If we decided to avoid Iraq-style occupations and fight only to defend ourselves or important allies, we could cut our ground forces in half.
If we admitted that we are not going to fight a war with China anytime soon, we could retire chunks of the Air Force and Navy that are justified by that mission. Even with a far smaller defense budget, ours will remain the world's most powerful military by a large margin. The recently enacted GI Bill, which gives veterans a subsidized or free college education, offers a vehicle for transitioning military personnel into the civilian economy.
Of course, powerful interests benefit from heavy defense spending, and cutting the military budget would be a tough sell. Both political parties believe that American primacy is the route to safety. But they're wrong.
A more restrained approach to defense is what would make us safer.