Monday, December 14, 2009

US military spending

My favorite non-libertarian political blog (I've been thinking of it as mostly a liberal source lately, though it waxes libertarian from time to time, depending on the current mix of contributors) interviewed paleoconservative thinker Daniel Larison this week. The whole thing is worth reading, but I especially liked this bit:
What I would like to see is a scaling back of the size and scope of our military presence around the globe. This could be done gradually as our present allies in Europe, Asia and the Gulf could begin to provide for their own security and reduce their dependence on American power. After 1945, it may have been inevitable that the United States had to fill the power vacuum that the political upheaval and devastation of the war caused, but when the USSR dissolved we had the opportunity to begin to unwind our abnormal and originally temporary role as a superpower. Over the last 20 years, we have simply refused to do this, but the peaceful rise of emerging powers in Latin America and Asia and the consolidation of the EU gives us another opportunity to relinquish our outsized security role while continuing commercial and diplomatic engagement with the world.
Indeed. I really like his framing of a military scale-down as an opportunity. Whether we ever needed to inflate our military to the extent we did during the Cold War or not, the vast resources ( over $600B, ~20% of federal spending, over 40% of total military spending in the world) tied up in this sector are surely unnecessary now. Will Wilkinson has ably argued that this enormous spending on defense effectively subsidizes the defense of those countries allied with and friendly toward America.

A more equitable distribution of military spending amongst friendly nations might even encourage more multilateral decision making and discourage rash invasions (as would the decrease in funds). A reduction to 50% of current defense spending would put the US at a comparable amount per head as France and the UK, which is still far more than Russia and China. Such a reduction might even serve as a friendly signal to the 'peacefully emerging powers', heading off wasteful arms races.

Back of the envelope numbers from Wikipedia.

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