Monday, October 22, 2012

Speaking of Strategic Insolvency on Defense

In what world is our defense spending part of the trillion dollars we borrow every year? In Ted Carpenter's world where no threat is worrisome enough to spend money on defeating and in which no foe is worth opposing.

Ted Carpenter argues we spend too much on defense because we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined; that in inflation adjusted terms we spend more than we did in the Cold War; and that spending encourages allies to spend less knowing we will defend them.

So what?

We spend a lot for a number of good and bad reasons. One, our personnel costs are very high. That's an overhead a lot of countries don't have. On the bright side, at least we get good people for our spending.

Second, we have to fight a long way from home. If our army just had to march out of their barracks in upstate New York to repel a Canadian invasion, we'd need to spend less. But we need to spend a lot of money just to have the capability to send and sustain a single soldier, marine, sailor, or airmen to a theater anywhere on the planet. Then we need to have the forces to fight.

Even simple things like our ships are more expensive since they must be large enough to deploy across major oceans even before they fight.

Also, we need to spend money to prepare for a lot of different foes. We don't have the luxury of focusing on a single enemy who can defeat us in a narrow scope of warfare. If we could, we could spend a lot less than we do.

Third, we spend money to avoid spending blood. Training, precision weapons, body armor, medical capabilities, and training all cost a lot of money. Sure, we could win a war without all those things, but how many dead troops are worth the price of not spending so much money? That's the trade off. More money or more blood. Math is hard, I know. But that's the reality of combat.

And our ability to win without as much bloodshed extends to enemy dead and innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Winning faster lowers the death toll in the long run.

As for the amount we spend compared to what we spent before, we can afford it. During the Cold War, spending was much higher as a percent of GDP than it is now. Stuff is more expensive when you don't buy as much. The research and development costs the same whether you then buy 1 or a million of the weapon. But buying fewer means the R & D costs are allocated to fewer systems, making them even more expensive.

And as for other countries freeloading on us? That's really their problem. South Korea is arguably making a wise decision given the decay of North Korea's military. If South Korea spends less as a percent of their GDP--as Carpenter uses when addressing allied spending (and why isn't Carpenter using that metric for the US?)--the fact that North Korea is less of a conventional threat is surely relevant.

Besides, if Taiwan (who Carpenter also says spends less as percent of GDP) spends too little, they die as a nation. If we spend enough, we won't regardless of that happens to them.

Carpenter seems to assume that we want allies to succeed as a favor to our allies rather than as a national interest. In the Cold War, we had an interest in keeping the Soviet Union from controlling the industrial and scientific resources of Western Europe regardless of whether the Western Europeans spent enough to defend themselves. The survival of NATO was in our national interest and spending to achieve that was not a gift to the Western Europeans. That they'd suffer more than us in their defeat is irrelevant to our interests.

It is surely morally right to keep China from conquering the free people of Taiwan. But it is also in our interest to keep China from gaining the springboard of Taiwan to project power into the Pacific and deny us the ability to contain China if they continue to be belligerent.

Further, he seems to have given us credit for being a steadfast ally that President Obama doesn't seem to share. Exactly which allies assume we will do whatever it takes to defend them?

The pivot to Asia is needed but it is really a small shift. If it is being done to ignore the fact that we continue to have vital interests in the Middle East and Europe that require our attention, it is right to point out that the Obama administration is risking our interests in those areas.

It is odd that Carpenter calls out Romney for wanting to look at issues other than Asia where we are pivoting when Carpenter can't seem to imagine fighting even in the Pacific.

But Ted Carpenter can't seem to imagine anything worth fighting for. So it is natural that he can't imagine the need to spend money on national defense above an adequate coast guard.

We live in a dangerous world. If we spend too much, maybe we should look at non-defense spending first for areas we can cut spending.

Honestly, I have no idea why anyone would listen to Ted Carpenter's views on defense issues.