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November 27, 2012

"5 myths about U.S. defense spending"

James Pethokoukis:

3. We spend more on defense than many other nations combined. Isn’t that excessive? Not if you look at what we ask our military to do and the value it generates. Our preeminence yields enormous strategic returns: (1) It protects the security and prosperity of the United States and its allies; (2) It amplifies America’s diplomatic and economic leadership; (3) It prevents the outbreak of great-power wars so common in previous centuries; and (4) It preserves the international order in the face of aggressive, illiberal threats. These benefits are a bargain at 4 cents on the dollar.


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Very debatable. In the past it was not one nation responsible for the balance of power. It was always a coalition. Now we have a coalition in name only with our so called allies neither capable or willing to help us in any meaningful way.

The benefits stated are ephemeral as we have been involved in many expensive and bloody wars since the end of World War 2.

And even if you accept all of this there is still a question of sheer size and if it is necessary. For instance we have Troops stationed in Portugal, a nation which has been at peace for several centuries. In what way can you justify such hegemony? And does such Hegemony not also create it's own problems with resentment from other nations?


I think the world is clearly a better place thanks for the US military. The question is: Might the US forces be spread too thin? Should they try to do less, but do it better? It's a hard question to answer. People often offer their favorite counterfactuals, but that doesn't help us figure it out.



"The benefits stated are ephemeral as we have been involved in many expensive and bloody wars since the end of World War 2."

As Steven Pinker has detailed, violence has declined for a very long time and for reasons of nation states and American Hegemony. The "expansive and bloody wars since the end of World War 2" are nothing as expansive and bloody as WWI and WWII, nor many of the expansive and bloody wars of the 19th century or the 18th century. Additionally, American Hegemony prevented WWIII, which certainly would have happened if America had pulled back to pre-WWII military involvement and presence. The resulting slaughter would have made WWII and WWI look like petty squabbles as Europe and Asia imploded in violence.

"In what way can you justify such hegemony?"

See Robert Kagan for the justification. Specifically, The World America Made or The Return of History. The peace seen in the world today is not, nor was it ever, inevitable. It is the result of American Hegemony.

"And does such Hegemony not also create it's own problems with resentment from other nations?"

I'd rather be resented and have small problems, rather than world wars or continent wide conflagrations. American Hegemony keeps these things from happening.


@Ken: I agree. Long live "Pax Americana".


Defense spending gets a bit of unfair treatment in budget discussions for sure, particularly when it's not presented in terms of GDP along with everything else and outside of historical context.

I have a difficult time believing, however, that sequestration will cause significant damage to defense capability. This implies that there is no waste anywhere in the system, and that the Pentagon cannot possibly re-allocate resources or find places where money is being spent unwisely. I've never understood why Republicans will shout this to anyone who will listen about entitlement programs, but put wax in their ears when it comes to defense spending.


Ken, I don't accept that critique at all, it is hogwash. WW2 was caused because of a totalitarian philosophy which was international in scope. The cold war was fought for the exact same reason.

There are not currently any such popular totalitarian philosophies which threaten us. Militant Islam is the closest thing, but it is neither popular, united, or truly global in scope.

Wars are caused for real reasons, they don't just happen because we spent only 200 billion instead of 500 billion.

You show no causal mechanism. The argument is just sophistry.



You know what the wonderful thing about truth is? It doesn't require your acceptance for it to still be true.

The ENTIRE reason the cold war was cold, instead of a heated global conflagration, was BECAUSE of American Hegemony. The hundreds of millions killed by communism didn't turn into billions dead because of American hegemony. The whole reason China didn't and isn't gobbling up Taiwan, Korea, and Japan is because of American Hegemony. The whole reason Russian isn't gobbling much of its former soviet states is because of American Hegemony. The whole reason democracy exists at all in the middle east is because of American Hegemony.

That you think there are no threats to modern liberal states (classical liberty, democracy, and freedom) only means you haven't been paying attention. The apogee of democracy and freedom occurred in the late 1990's, early 2000's. Totalitarianism is on the rise and there are fewer democracies today than ten years ago. You would know this if you'd taken the time to read the short books I offered you, but instead you offer hot air and no substance.

And you can dismiss Islam all you want. It's still the second fastest growing religion (behind Christianity) in the world today. And it's not getting any less militant.

Liberty and democracy waxes and wanes depending on the most important democracies and champions of liberty stepping up and promoting those ideas, including militarily. Unfortunately, many political and cultural elites share your wrong headed beliefs and are failing to support these ideas. Not surprisingly, they are shrinking in the world. The US is a perfect example. Americans reelected a guy who takes from the taxpayers to give to his political friends. Americans reelected a guy who thinks government dependent Julia is a good citizen. Americans reelected a guy who jailed a person for making a politically inconvenient movie. Americans reelected a guy who has a kill list, which includes American citizens.

If these are the actions of the political leaders of the most powerful liberal democracy in the world, is it any wonder that liberal democracies are declining?

Lastly, I think it's hilarious that you call MY argument sophistry without any "causal mechanisms", when that's, at most, all you're offering.

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