Originally posted March 8, 2014.
The Wall Street Journal and neocons and their sympathizers vote yes. Cato Institute’s Chris Preble and Ben Friedman, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Boston University professor Andrew J. Bacevich and Dick Young vote no. Mr. Preble’s The Power Problem is America’s manifesto for safety and prosperity. In the past I have provided a series of articles in support of Chris’s The Power Problem (Part I, Part II, Part III), the Pentagon strategy analysis you must read. Chris maintains that a smaller U.S. military focused on defending our core national interests cannot be defending other countries that should defend themselves. Chris adds, the same principle applies to interventions seen as serving a higher humanitarian purpose.
In Cato’s Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint, Chris and Ben Friedman argue, “The United States does not need to spend $700 billion a year—nearly half of global military spending—to preserve its security. … By capitalizing on our geopolitical fortune, we can safely spend far less.”
Boston University’s Andrew J Bacevich writes, “Armies are like newspapers. They have become 21st-century anachronisms. To survive they must adapt. … Nostalgia about a hallowed past is a luxury that neither armies nor newspapers can afford to indulge.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel offers a budget that would shrink the Army (not nearly enough) to pre-World War II levels. In “Review & Outlook,” The Wall Street Journal offers a sharply contrary view. WSJ writes, “The steep reduction in manpower and equipment is an invitation to unexpected aggression. …The purpose of fielding a large Army is to minimize the temptations for aggression.”
I agree with Chris Preble that we cannot be in the business of defending other countries that should be defending themselves. As Chris and Ben Friedman have summarized, America should capitalize on our geopolitical fortune (big oceans and safe borders). America possesses a portfolio of reliable options to a standing army if the goal is minimizing the temptation for aggression. (By the way, a standing army is not supported by the Constitution.) America’s economic dominance can be useful for instant leverage. By example, would China wish to compromise its trade status with the U.S. to satisfy its interest in Taiwan? When considering the defense of America’s shores, do Americans really believe that our Army would come into play? How would any substantial invading army ever reach American soil? Take your globe for a spin to better comprehend the folly of a large manpower invasion.
In upcoming Part II, I will look at a few of the specific issues in the Hagel budget.