Sunday, October 14, 2012

Will America Become Detroit, Part 6: The World Police Turn in Their Badges

We Put the "F" Back in "Freedom"
"Beware of entangling allances"
-Pres. George Washington
"A Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One"
- From "The Pirates of Penzance" by Gilbert and Sullivan
Now that U.S. presidential nominees are decided by primaries, the party conventions have become pointless, predictable bores. They are little more than rallies disguised as deliberative bodies. Both conventions are so scripted that the few moments that stand out are those where some participant tosses down the script and improvises. One of those moments this year came from Senator Rand Paul's Republican convention speech. At a convention where military one-upmanship was the coin of the day, Sen. Paul made the case that to balance our budget, "Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent". This is a brave admission; even Democrats such as Leon Panetta argue that even the recent slowing of military spending increases threaten our security. Although Sen. Paul's views on military spending are in the minority, soon the debt crisis will bring these views into the mainstream. When we absolutely must make the hard choices, it will soon come to light that much of our military spending has nothing to do with defending our nation, and some of our military efforts actually damage our security.

Defending Everyone Against Everyone Else

The 2012 U.S. military budget accounts for 41% of all military spending done on this planet. Our military spending is more than that of Russia, China and our NATO allies combined. Why does it cost so much to defend a nation surrounded by two oceans, and bordered by two very friendly neighbors? The answer is that much of the U.S. defense budget goes to defending other nations. America maintains 900 military bases in 130 countries. Our nation has 119,000 troops in Europe, 37,000 in South Korea, and 45,000 in Japan. There 44 American military bases in Germany alone. The average American taxpayer pays more for these bases than the average German taxpayer does.

A large part of why the U.S. defense spending is so high is that it includes a huge ersatz foreign aid program where we take on the defense duties of many of our allies. This is a great deal for the countries we defend: their tax burden is lessened, this in turn gives them a competitive advantage over us, and fewer of their young people are asked to sacrifice their lives. But is this a good deal for us? And if not, how did we end up in this situation?

The Diplomatic Equivalents of the Helium Reserve

We are all aware of Department of Defense programs that were continued far beyond any practical purpose. The National Helium Reserve, originally set up to make sure we had helium for our dirigibles, continued until 2007. The horse mounted cavalry was maintained as late as 1942. And don't forget the Mohair subsidies ooriginally enacted during WWI guarantee enough wool for soldiers uniforms. These subsidies continued until recent years, in spite of the fact that no uniforms have been made from mohair for more than half a century.

The State Department has its own share of programs that go on far past the time where their original rationale made any sense. The prime example of this is NATO, started in 1949 to help European nations rebuilding after the devastation of WWII to defend themselves against the Soviet bloc. This treaty was originally intended as a temporary measure, to help out until these nations could defend themselves. Dwight Eisenhower, as NATO Supreme Commander said that “if in 10 years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defense purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed.” As a perfect illustration of the Reagan maxim that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program, NATO is still going strong after more than six decades, long after all the member nations have recovered from WWII, and even long after the Soviet threat has disappeared into history.

A similar situation exists in South Korea. After the end of the Korean war, one could make the case that it was in America's best interest to help our war-torn ally defend herself against communist aggression. But more than half a century later, South Korea now has a GDP 20 times the GDP of North Korea. If South Korea cannot defend herself now, when will she be able to do so?

When Defense Works Against Security

It is bad enough that American taxpayers are forced to pay for defend nations other than their own. What makes matters worse is what the CIA calls blowback, where the unintended consequences of American military ventures actually worsen our security. Major security failures such as 9/11 were retaliations for U.S. wars fought on foreign soil.

What Rand Paul said about defense spending may be controversial in 2012, but as the debt crisis comes to a head and every tax dollar needs to be accounted for, Paul's call for a closer look at defense spending will become more mainstream. Article 1 Section 8 of the constitution points out the need to provide for the common defense. But this meant the defense of the United States, not that of the world. It is time to end our role as world policeman, and concentrate on protecting our own citizens.


  1. You have some excellent arguments. I think all of what you describe needs to be addressed. The only point on which we disagree is that some of our bases (perhaps not so many personnel there)really are in the interests of our own defense.

  2. Thanks for your feedback. I agree that we certainly need our domestic bases for our own defense, but do these foreign bases really help our security in a cost effective manner? If so, which ones?