Government Spending

Why Not Cut Military Spending?


Writing in Politico, Chris Preble of the (right-wing extremist!) Cato Institute and Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network debunk the bipartisan Washington consensus that military spending should always be off-limits to budget freezes. For a proposal so outside the Beltway mainstream, their action plan sounds pretty reasonable:

But ultimately, because our national security rests on our economic health as well as on the strength of our military, a liberal and a libertarian can agree that the Pentagon should no longer get a pass. Congress must stop funding projects to satisfy parochial domestic interests. The Pentagon must stop buying weapons systems that are already outdated, unworkable or both. And the administration must carefully define our vital security interests, reshape our grand strategy to more equitably distribute the burdens of policing the globe and reduce the occasions when our military will be called on to fight.

This one will be tougher to pull off…

For nearly two decades, Republicans and Democrats in Washington have deployed the U.S. military as a police force of first resort. Now is the time for a change.

We might also change the odd policy of not including war spending when calculating the federal budget deficit.

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  1. Yeppers. Defense spending is way too high and has been since the collapse of the USSR.

    1. How do we know you’re a real FCCM (Ret.)?

      1. How do we know you’re a real FCCM (Ret.)?

        A fake one wouldn’t have the stones to buck the party line.

    2. A myth. After the Cold War ended, we essentially cut our military almost in half, and defense spending both as a share of GDP and a share of the budget dropped down close to historic lows. It went back up again a bit after 9/11, but that shouldn’t be especially surprising.

      1. I don’t know if it was half but there were a lot of cuts. And they came with a lot of kicking and screaming from the right. The republican narrative blamed Clinton for going cheap on the military. But they failed to Credit Bush sr. for his role.

        I think the costs of rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan are in the defense budget.

        At 600 Billion plus a year for defense, can we sustain it?

    3. FCCM?

      Fat Cell-Conditioned Medium

  2. Can someone explain to me why we still have to keep almost 30,000 conventional troops in South Korea some 55 years after the Korean War?

    Yeah, I know there are ongoing security questions there, but I’m not convinced that South Korea can’t defend itself from a conventional attack from North Korea. …and that seems to be where a lot of the expense is coming from. We still have a navy. We still have air support. We still have missiles…

    I’m not saying we ignore the threat, and I’m not saying we pull out tomorrow. But I’m not convinced we couldn’t get just a good of a bang for our buck, security wise, by letting the South Koreans take over those jobs on the ground.

    And, incidentally, having spoken with a number of South Koreans here in the United States, I suspect a lot of regular South Koreans would be glad to see us go.

    1. I think it probably has less to do with protecting South Korea then it does with just having a large contingent of troops in a strategic area. I agree with you though. They should be brought home along with most others.

    2. The Korean war isn’t over. It’s only a cease fire. Yeah, that sounds odd. But if you are still at war you need troops near by in case they violate the cease fire. Which we hear is always around the bend.

      We need to declare the war over and pull troops, but no one wants to be the cut and run guy 😉

      1. War? When did we declare war on North Korea? The war hasnt started yet, so how can there be a cease fire?

        We dont have to declare the ware over since it was never declared started to begin with.

        1. Don’t tell those veterans it was a war, they get touchy about that.

          1. Oops

            Don’t tell them it wasn’t a war…

    3. I spent a little over a year in the Republic of Korea, a couple miles off the DMZ. It’s a beautiful, interesting, and fun country to visit.

      First thing to get straight: yes, a lot of South Koreans would be really happy to see the Americans go. Lots of soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen make total asses of themselves on a regular basis. A shameful level of crime in places like Uijeongbu, Pyongtaek, and Seoul is the result of American military folks.

      But as for whether or not we’re there to help the South in the event of a North Korean invasion– I’m a little skeptical. I worked with the Third Republic of Korea Army during my tour, and it seemed like the US commanders spent half their time talking the ROK commanders down from launching an invasion into the DPRK.

      The ROK government spends a lot of time talking about “unification with the North”. This is a code for “invading the DPRK”. There is constant propaganda about it. It feels ingrained into the culture.

      Honestly, I think half the reason we’re in South Korea is to keep them from invading the North. Remember: we’re still party to treaties that require us to defend the South if the ceasefire breaks. And China is still party to treaties that require them to help out the North.

      Not saying we should keep people there, but I think that the motivation is a little different than “defending the South Koreans”. I think the idea is to help keep that ceasefire in effect.

      1. Interesting. Never heard that before. The NK army is huge but unlikely to be able to sustain a long conventional war. On the other hand, they’ve got hundreds or thousands of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul, and if each just gets off a couple of rounds, you’ve got a major catastrophe.

      2. That is interesting, Jim Bob.

        I’d always thought that the proximity of the DMZ to the population centers of South Korea meant that the North Koreans could devastate the South Korean population in minutes with conventional weapons. …and that it was this that kept the South Koreans from invading. …it still seems to me that even if those populations can’t be defended well from conventional weapons, surely the South Koreans can defend those population centers just as well as we can.

        And even if we’re playing a mitigating role with the South Koreans, I still say–it’s been 55 years. Maybe it’s up to the Chinese to step up if they have any influence with the North Koreans? …if they don’t want a humanitarian catastrophe on their doorstep?

        Maybe the North Koreans will see less of a need to threaten South Korea with us no longer on the other side of the line?

        I don’t know.

        I’m appreciative of the service, I really am, but we have other issues now. If the South Koreans want to invade the North, and that’s unreasonable, then maybe they’ll get more reasonable when it’s really their decision to make? I’m sure I could fill half of South Korea with what I don’t know about North Korea and how well they’d fare in a war with the South. …but for all I know, maybe the South should invade the North.

        I don’t know.

        I just know that it’s been 55 some years, and it’s about time to pull the plug on… What do you want to call it? The last battle of World War II or the first battle of the Cold War? Whatever you want to call it, World War II is over. The Cold War’s been over for a long time too…

        …and I’m getting weary of hearing about how US forces should be used to the benefit of every nation under the sun, it seems, except the United States of America.

        We have our own problems. Some of them are economic. That means we have to set priorities. Like I said before, it’s not all or nothing, but I’m not sure American boots on the ground in South Korea should be near the top of the priority list right now.

  3. Any invasion of South Korea would stop as soon as the North Korean soldiers saw all the food available in the South. Lower-level soldiers who make up the bulk of the army are treated like crap (like the rest of the population) – beaten, given lousy rations, etc. I find it hard to believe they could fight any kind of sustained battle.

    On the other hand, North Koreans are so malnourished that they’re six inches shorter on average than south Koreans. So they make smaller targets.

  4. Yeah, the big problem is that the two parties pretty much agree that it is the US reponsibility to be the policeman of the world. They only seem to disagree about how much input the rest of the world has in making the decisions as to where/when/and under who’s control force is to be used. As far as National Defense goes, who would invade a country with 200 million guns in private hands? I think we could scale back dramatically with no impact to our security. Other countries should be given some notice in order to scale up their defense forces in our absense but I think that’s the direction to go. Don’t see it happening though.

  5. The left will whine that we need the forces for “humanitarian” interventions; they see the military as social workers with guns. (Government guns, so those guns are okay.) The right will shriek that the terrahists will git us. Add in the “but that brings jobs to my district” and it’s pretty much guaranteed that any cuts will be purely nominal.

  6. We might also change the odd policy of not including war spending when calculating the federal budget deficit.

    Yes, but we need to be more specific.

    Otherwise the crowd in power will not include *any* spending when calculating the deficit. 8-(

  7. eliminate the Air Force. The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps maintain their own air forces, there is no need for a separate branch anymore.

    1. I’m not sure how that produces savings, in and of itself. I think it would be silly to have the Army in charge of strategic bombers and ICBMs, but I’m in favor of lifting some regulations re fixed-wing ground attack aircraft. The Air Force doesn’t really want A-10s, except to keep them out of the hands of the Army, which would love to have them.

      1. You could cut some overhead in redundant offices and other “support”.

        But yeah, who’s gonna run the bombers and our stargate program then?

  8. Yes, I did exaggerate there a bit, and I shouldn’t have. The force went from about 2.2 million down to 1.4, so the cut was closer to a third than a half.

    At the rate which our crazed government is now accumulating debt, we won’t be able to sustain the force any more than we’ll be able to sustain the welfare. If we completely eliminated the Department of Defense, we might well be able to push our insolvency back by thirty or forty years or so, assuming of course that the government didn’t just take all that money and spend it on other departments instead.

    People should bear in mind though that they may not care too much for a world in which China is the dominant military force and bad actors like Iran are free to cause all sorts of trouble.

  9. Step one: Bring home all forces stationed in Europe. Nobody’s invading Europe, there is no prospect of Europe going to war internally. Europe is plenty big and rich enough to have an army of its own.

    Step two: Bring home forces based in Asia, with the possible exception a major air/naval facility or two, just in case.

    Step three: Reconfigure the armed forces, and especially the reserves/national guard, so that they are a trained corp that can be remobilized fairly quickly, and downsize the standing army.

    Step four: Take a hard look at steering spending from the army to the mobile “first response” forces (Marines, Navy, Air Force). If we need a big footprint, remobilize from the trained cadres.

  10. Congress must stop funding projects to satisfy parochial domestic interests.

    Cut it out! You’re killing me.

  11. Can someone explain to me why we still have to keep almost 30,000 conventional troops in South Korea some 55 years after the Korean War?

    The war’s not actually over; we’re just resting.

  12. Suicide defense spending isn’t going to do us any favors in the long run.

    China’s military expansion is paid for by the U.S. consumer. Ok, other countries by their goods too.

    China doesn’t need the threat of war to influence us. They can start talking out loud about not buying our debt and we’ll start kissing their ass.

    1. To be fair China would be better at running the US then the US is.

      1. Better in the small business regard. Not so great in the take-your-property/bulldoze-your-house regard.

      2. Ah – if only we could shoot our problems in the back of the head! It would the other problems quake in their boots, and my bet is the country would suddenly be a lot more “governable” in the Chinese sense.

        1. Yeah that was my thinking…

          I was not thinking that China opened its markets which pulled 500 million people out of poverty at all….nor was i thinking that the US was going in the exact opposite direction.

          Cuz as we all know my first instinct is to have more government control.

  13. Other countries buy their goods too.

  14. Step three: Reconfigure the armed forces, and especially the reserves/national guard, so that they are a trained corp that can be remobilized fairly quickly, and downsize the standing army.

    Sounds good on paper, RC, but you that kind of blithe policy statement entails quite a bit more work on the already-overworked Reserves and National Guard. What would you do, bump it up to two or three drills a month? Make annual training a mandated month-long endeavor? That’s just going to cause more employer/employee relationship headaches.

    1. Hey, they call it an Iron Law for a reason:

      The less you know about something, the easier it looks.

      First, you need to figure out just what kind of mobilization you want. It may be that the Reserves and Guard are just fine as they are, I dunno. For what I have in mind, they don’t need to be on a hair trigger. If we can start getting re-mobilized units on the field in, say 3 – 6 months, that might work.

  15. Besides being a net money saver, it seems to me by what everyone here is saying is that we’d be better off if we simply became more efficient in our numbers and what we purchase. That can be a great sell to the masses of voters out there that worry about our strength and security which is a lot of people. So, the only people left to sell once you’ve made your argument to the masses, are the politicians who bring home pork to their districts.

    ” The Navy asked for one submarine, but we need six so my district can have the jobs.”

    1. If the Average American needs all their decisions made for them by Congress, why should the Navy be any different.

      I mean, how can the Navy really know how many submarines they need? They’re not legislators.

  16. Clinton cut military spending.

    and contrary to Matt’s thinking Obama is no Clinton.

  17. We must cease believing in the nineteenth
    century myth of manifest destiny. Our society cannot export our culture by police actions. We are reaping the results of all empire building by confusing our military power with a right to impose morality and ethics on others.
    The last forty should have taught us enough about the dangers of evangelism and the rise of special interests before the loss of equity and justice burst the bubble of hubris we called liberty.

  18. Well, I’m new to this site, and fascinated, but as I recall, it was called “The Korean Police Action,” and I know an old Navy SEAL with a Navy Cross who invaded China during the conflict to put American locks on a power station just to prove we could do it! But he says now the whole thing was a mistake, and we should never have come to the South Koreans defense, anymore than propping up all those dummies in “South” Vietnam. I think the only reason we have all those bases around the world is because so much of our own economy is based on weapons sales, military “contractors,” who outnumber the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that old “Military/Industrial Complex” Eisenhower warned us against. But I’m just an old geezer libertarian who thinks giving “Defense” half our budget is the biggest “entitlement” of all.

    Dennis Green
    Alameda, California

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