Friday, October 15, 2010

Do We Need a Huge Military?

By Alan Caruba

In a recessionary era that promises to last longer than usual it is a good idea to reexamine our national priorities and needs. Ever since the end of World War Two, sixty-five years ago, more than two generations, America has militarily been a superpower.

Despite that, it came as a rude shock to have been forced out of Vietnam in the 1970s and to have found ourselves in a lengthy occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan in this decade. With regard to these current conflicts, it is worth noting that, while we maintain a large military presence with a considerable arsenal of weapons, vehicles, and personnel, the enemy operates with quite a bit less while wearing out U.S. public support at the same time.

The question today is do we need a huge military?

Benjamin Friedman and Christopher Preble, both Cato Institute scholars, address this question in a policy analysis titled “Budgetary Savings from Military Restraint.” While I believe the U.S. should maintain a strong military, I have long harbored the concern that the U.S. military is too large for our actual needs.

America entered a period of “empire” following World War II, expanding our military to involve bases throughout a world threatened primarily by the former Soviet Union that was seeking to expand communism. The threat was real and it was met in Korea. Our military strength deterred offensive missiles in Cuba. It was successfully challenged in Vietnam. It played a NATO role in Serbia to quell the violence there.

It can be argued that our huge presence in Europe deterred Soviet ambitions and protected Japan and Taiwan against Red Chinese ambitions, but present global realities are such that European nations and South Korea should be playing a greater role in defending themselves, given their economic strength.

The Middle East will likely be the scene of conflict for many years to come, but it does not pose a direct threat to the homeland and our presence there is more likely to exacerbate anti-U.S. views than reduce them. I have argued for military withdrawal from Afghanistan and, while we shall likely have to maintain a military force in Iraq for many years to come, the real problem posed by Iran is its quest for nuclear weapons rather than an invasion of other nations in the region. This is evidenced in its use of proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas

The Cato scholars argue that present U.S. military strategy should not include “the occupation of failing states and indefinite commitments to defend healthy ones.” The history of past empires amply demonstrates that their populations grew weary of this policy and that it often sapped their strength until failure set in.

“With fewer missions, the military can shrink its force structure—reducing personnel, the weapons and vehicles procured for them, and operational costs. The resulting force would be more elite, less strained, and far less expensive. By avoiding needless military conflict and protecting our prosperity, these changes would make Americans more secure.” The Cato scholars project cuts that would total more than $1.2 trillion over ten years.

“The United States does not need to spend $700 billion a year—nearly half of global military spending—to preserve its security.” Long ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against the “military-industrial complex” and there isn’t a politician since then has not argued against the shutting down of a military installation in their state while the procurement of new weapons systems has frequently been supported on the basis that it will generate more jobs.

We have to begin to move away from such thinking, the product of the last world war, smaller wars since then and unfounded fears of invasion or attack. 9/11 was a terrorist attack by a small, stateless enemy and must be seen as such.

Degrading the jihadist capabilities can be and is being accomplished at far less cost than maintaining large military forces in the Middle East. As the Cato scholars note, “Contrary to conventional wisdom, counterterrorism does not require much military spending.”

Among the arguments put forth for high military spending is that the U.S. military primacy underlies global security, but the Cato scholars note that “During the Cold War, Japan, Western Europe and South Korea grew wealthy enough to defend themselves” and that “the threats to global trade today are quite limited.”

“The United States confuses what it wants from its military, which is global primacy or hegemony, with what it needs, which is safety. Our leaders tend to exaggerate the capabilities of the enemies we have and invent new enemies by defining traditional foreign troubles—geopolitical competition among states and instability within them, for example—as pressing threats to our security.”

There will always be threats to our security. No one suggests otherwise, but the failure to defend our southern border may be seen in retrospect as having been a far greater threat to our security than anything occurring elsewhere, farther from our homeland.

The Middle East promises to remain unstable for a very long time to come, but we have seen that a huge investment in lengthy occupations may not yield any more real security than smaller, counterterrorism strategies.

Even with the cuts proposed the U.S. can project more military power than any other nation and it is time to ask ourselves if new technologies have not in fact given us the opportunity to reduce a massive Navy, Air Force, and Army to achieve national security in a new world that has seen the end of the Soviet Union, the economic rise of China and India, among others, and the need to address our own present economic problems.

© Alan Caruba, 2010


Unknown said...

I've long believed that Japan, South Korea and what's now the Eurozone should take more responsibility for their security.

As for the middle east, Russia is not threatened by Iran, and China's oil contracts are providing the money to support her aims of elimination of Israel and the "Return of the Mahdi" efforts all across the Islamic world. So who's going to restrain Iran?

Otherwise? We have no national interest in the Balkans or the Eurozone, really. And from a national interest standpoint, the Chinese have more at risk in the Sumatran Straits than we do.

While we might suffice with some system with fewer active duty personnel and more Active Reserve and National Guard types, I'd sure hate to see us revert to the condition in which we found ourselves in 1916 and 1941.

This is all overly-simplistic, but I'm not gonna write a book. :-)

Dry Thoughts from the Desert said...

Two points, one for both the column and the previous comment, one for the column alone. First Iran. Since there is no verifiable proof that I am aware of that they are doing anything differently then they are saying, WHY the concern about a nuclear weapons program that can't be proven to exist, and why mention it? Sounds like you do too much MSM after all. And of course, with the "enemy" having as many as 200 nuclear weapons of its own, do you really think they truly wish annihilation just so they can "smoke" Tel Aviv?

The second and most unbelievable part is do you REALLY still believe that 9/11 was accomplished by 19 Muslims that couldn't even fly a Cessna, many of which are still alive in Saudi, when even airline pilots say there is no way they could have done it? I am shocked that you apparently believe that 30,000 gallons of jet fuel has enough heat in it to do the impossible. Do the math, I did. Even a full fuel load at impact, burned completely and transferred directly to the steel in the building, could not deliver enough heat to seriously compromise that much steel.

Alan Caruba said...

@DryThoughts: It's one thing to be a contrarian and ignore facts, but to lack logic just makes it worse.

History demonstrates that the leaders of a nation make threats against other nations, they usually mean what they say. To ignore them is to ask for a world of grief.

Guy in Ohio said...

@ Dry thoughts from the desert ... are you serious? Do you really think our own government planted explosives in the WTC to bring those buildings down or something? If so, I'm left speechless by your ignorance. Please don't write any books ...

Anonymous said...

Being totally uninformed as to how much military we should have or what it should be composed of I do believe this. We must keep our military superiority in what ever form that may be. The foremost job of the Federal government is to protect the American people. As unfair and exasperating as it may seem we are the policeman of the world if only for our own protection. It is also our duty to stand up verbally if not militarily for all countries that embrace Democracy as Democratic countries don't try to bomb their neighbors into submission.It's a fine line and one that Americans want our leaders to adhere to but we cannot abrogate our responsibilities. Every time we've tried to be isolationist we've paid a heavy price. The next time might be a price no one wants to pay. We can well afford to not only have the most well equipped, well trained and most technically advanced military we have the duty to do so. Our government needs to get out of the nanny state control of its citizens business which would in itself pay for the military and protective measures we need to have as a country.

Alan Caruba said...

@cabby: I am for a powerful military, but the point argued was whether our present military represents earlier conflicts as opposed to modern warfare.

I also wonder on occasion whether we are or should be the world's policeman. I don't want to lose any soldier in Afghanistan anymore as I regard it to be as hopeless a place to wage war as the Russians discovered.

So, yes, let's stay strong, but let's pick our fights, bring force to bear, and let the enemy clean up the rubble. Rebuilding nations is not a military task and never was one.

Unknown said...

Dry thoughts, you're definitely suffering from a water shortage. I don't recall saying boo-diddly about Iran and nukes. I'm just going by public pronouncements from the leadership there about the Islamic Crescent and the Mahdi and their obvious on-again, off-again war with Israel via their surrogate army, Hezbollah. That's not MSM, that's worldwide media which includes Al Jazeera.

And, Dry, it's a serious case of water on the brain to think that 9/11 wasn't done by the people who were shown to be the Baddies. Too many of their good buddies have cheered the whole deal, and run their mouths about it big time. Bin Laden himself stated that the results were more than he anticipated from his plans.

Aw, well. Tinfoil hattery is contributing to commodity price increases and making Alcoa and Reynolds good stock buys. :-)

Montie said...


although I am truly a big believer in maintaining primacy in our war-making power, I too have been having some thoughts as to where we might make some cuts without reducing our combat power, should it be necessary to fight an unexpected war.

One of the things we really need to take a look at is the huge and expensive garrisons we have maintained for the last 65 years in Europe and Japan, as well as South Korea for the last 57.

we would suffer no loss of military power in reducing our footprint across the globe, and it would save untold billions of dollars. Now, the military would argue that we NEED those bases to insure that we can have an adequate response time in the event of some catastrophe (military or otherwise), but much of the personnel and equipment at those locations has either stayed put or rotated through our current two front conflict.

While pulling back from these overseas garrisons would allow a reduction in manpower and hardware, we should be careful about putting ourselves into a position that would require playing catch-up if we were drawn into conflict with a major power. The U.S. has lost much of the manufacturing base that allowed us to quickly gear up and outproduce our enemies in WWI and again (and to a much larger extent) in WWII.

We should strive to maintain a large, well equipped, globally capable military, but trim away the extras required to have a physical presence in so many places worldwide.

Dry Thoughts from the Desert,

I have asked the hospital to curtail your access to the internet until your medication is properly adjusted ;-)