Thursday, April 14, 2016

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

Saving money by cutting defense hurts us more than pushing "free riders" to increase their spending, and this costs us more money in the long run by encouraging foes to believe they can catch up with us and perhaps have a shot at beating us.

This is just one of the problems of cutting our defense spending (tip to Instapundit, and do read it all):

It is actually cheaper for us to maintain this [global economic and security system] framework when other countries don’t feel the need to spend lots of money on their militaries—when the U.S. spends less than 4% of GDP on defense but has a bigger defense budget than the rest of the world combined, that is the sign of a successful strategy: our military superiority is immense and unchallengeable, yet the cost to us, is by historical great power standards, low. That is the sign of strategic success, not of ‘free riding allies’, Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump.

And when a lot of countries have better militaries, they can fight each other--risking escalation and expansion--more easily.

Sure, we can dress this up as some nuanced "leading from behind allies who fight for us" nonsense, but such a policy has consequences we should not like:

When we want allies who can fight without us taking the lead--wait for it--we get allies who can fight without us in the lead.

So they might fight in Vietnam. Or invade Egypt.

That's another aspect our defense spending seeks to counter, if you recall.

But back to our dominance slipping enough to give potential enemies a shot at passing us. Don't be shocked that this is what we are getting. In 2009, the administration said that just being better than anyone else was sufficient.

The administration still brags about that, as if that is meaningful in the real world where we have costs that distort the simple dollar comparison of defense budgets.

And back in 2004, Democrats went into a morally outraged fit when the Bush administration stated that our national security policy was one of "dominance (quoting that Bush administration document here):"

We know from history that deterrence can fail; and we know from experience that some enemies cannot be deterred. The United States must and will maintain the capability to defeat any attempt by an enemy—whether a state or non-state actor—to impose its will on the United States, our allies, or our friends. We will maintain the forces sufficient to support our obligations, and to defend freedom. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.

But no, Al Gore led the faithful in claiming this goal was an outrage.

And today, when we cut back our level of superiority, global arms spending apart from us is going up as countries are no longer dissuaded from surpassing or equaling our power (back to the initial link):

Global military spending has begun rising in real terms for the first time since the U.S. began its withdrawal of troops from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Now our foes have hope of catching up with us.

And even those who aren't our foes will have hope that they can use this greater military power against targets other than America. With weaker power, America might decide we can't afford to stop such aggression.

And death and destruction will result, with risks of expansion and escalation that will drag us in anyway.

So the world gets more dangerous as we pretend to save money. We established the global system that benefits us. But we've forgotten that we did this and we have forgotten that defending this system is more than a gift to the rest of the world--it is vital for our security and prosperity.

Bad things will happen. And it is entirely predictable even if we can't be sure where and when it will happen.