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The Indispensable Cause in the Indispensable Nation

Image by Wikimedia user Johnpseudo.

By Taylor Marvin

National Review’s Jay Nordlinger is adamant that US defense spending should be insulated from drastic cuts:

“And we get to the fundamental question, What is the federal government for? What is Washington for? It is certainly for the physical protection of the nation — not necessarily for “free false teeth”… and similar things, which are gravy, luxuries, at best. Are we rich enough to figure out what our defense needs are and then go find the money for it? I think so. Moreover, we’d better be.”

Let’s imagine a world where the United States spends significantly less on its military budget. Pretend that, say, the US Navy possesses 7 carrier battle groups instead of 11, at a savings of roughly 20 billion for just the carriers themselves, not including their accompanying support ships, aircraft, crews, and maintenance costs. Obviously this would represent substantial savings for the federal government, giving us the opportunity to reduce the deficit, spend the newly available funds on other programs, or lower taxes- all worthy goals. But how exactly would the this reduction hurt the ‘physical protection of the nation’? The United States would still posses 7 aircraft carriers- exactly five more than any other nation on Earth and with capabilities far, far beyond anything any rival navy could potentially field in the forseeable future. This is surely enough force to deter a threat to the United States- a threat that critics of reduced defense spending aren’t able to identify in anything but the vaguest terms. Sure, China is rapidly expanding its military capabilities, and Russia has shown itself to sometimes harshly oppose US foreign policy goals. But do any of these countries pose a threat to the physical safety of the nation? When this argument fails defense hawk move away from worry over the strict protection of the homeland to wider claims that any meaningful cuts in military spending would threaten US interests abroad. But this logic also fails. Would China really be more likely to invade Taiwan if the United States halved its carrier fleet? We would still retain the ability to remotely destroy an invasion fleet crossing the Taiwan strait, and any conflict between the world’s two largest economies would still be so economically devastating to both that it removes most of the incentive for war in the first place. If the US closed Cold War-era Air Force bases in Europe would Russia be more likely to inexplicably invade Eastern Europe? Of course not. Claims that rational cuts in US defense spending would somehow threaten world stability are ludicrous- a country that spend a third rather than a half of the planet’s military budget would still firmly control the international order. We’ve been hearing these arguments for the last two decades and they haven’t gotten any more logical. Excessive defense spending inflates the deficit and imposes an enormous opportunity cost on American government and society. We can do better.

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