GOP lost in defense budget black hole
The Examiner
by Doug Bandow, The Examiner
February 1, 2008

WASHINGTON (Map, News) - Republicans once claimed to oppose wasteful government spending. But Republicans are now demanding ever more military expenditures, irrespective of need. Presidential candidates Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney all want a major military buildup.

Romney proposes spending "a minimum of 4 percent of GDP on national defense." Former Sen. Jim Talent and the Heritage Foundation's Mackenzie Eaglen similarly contend that policy makers "should be judged by whether or not they support spending a minimum of 4 percent of GDP on the regular defense budget."

Candidate Fred Thompson advocated spending 4.5 percent of GDP on the military. Mike Huckabee would trump everyone by spending 6 percent of GDP on the military: $800 billion, a 50 percent increase in current outlays.

What could possibly justify such huge increases? The economy's size and growth are unrelated to national security threats. Between 1960 and 2005, real GDP more than quadrupled while the world grew much safer.

In fact, these conservatives sound like liberals on domestic policy: Spend as much money as possible irrespective of need or effectiveness. The U.S. currently spends roughly as much as the rest of the world combined. Nevertheless, Talent talked of "threats that are highly unpredictable and therefore, taken as a whole, more dangerous than the threats we faced during the Cold War."

Apparently those years of defending war-ravaged allies from an aggressive Soviet Union, unpredictable Maoist China, and various European and Third World communist satellites were nothing compared with confronting Osama bin Laden with his vast legions.

Terrorism, a la 9/11, is horrid, but the potential consequences are nothing like that of even a small nuclear strike. Such terrorism is best met by sophisticated intelligence, international cooperation, law enforcement and special forces rather than huge militaries and preventive wars.

The threat of nuclear terrorism or a rogue state missile attack is real — though very unlikely — and must be guarded against. But, again, there is no comparison with the possibility of a full-scale nuclear exchange.

The potential of a destructive conventional conflict like World War II is essentially zero. There is no prospect of the Red Army rolling from Moscow to the Atlantic.

Nor is China a substitute for the Cold War. Even the "worst-case" estimate of Beijing's military expenditures puts it at barely a quarter of American outlays. Moreover, Beijing is starting at a very low base force. Equally important, China is concentrating on deterring American intervention, not attacking the U.S. Preserving American predominance in Asia is not the same as defending America.

The spendthrift hawks worry not that the U.S. will be attacked — any aggressor would be committing national suicide — but that America will be unable to attack other countries. Rarely have Washington's wars of choice involved vital American interests.

Talent still claimed that "it would take a lot more than 4 percent of our GDP to defend a 'Fortress America' — an America that allows dangers to fester and grow until they are strong enough to attack us in our homeland."

But preventive intervention in the name of promoting U.S. security almost always worsens problems. It is particularly foolish to assume that bombing will resolve "festering problems." Iraq is an obvious case in point.

Finally, the U.S. is allied with every major industrialized state and is friendly with most regional powers that aren't formal allies. Europe possesses a larger population and economy than America, let alone Russia.

South Korea has 40 times the GDP and twice the population of the North. Japan, Australia, Singapore and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are capable of matching China. Why can't America's allies and friends defend themselves and their regions?

U.S. defense spending seems inadequate only because of America's hyper-interventionist foreign policy. Rarely does the American military actually defend America against genuine dangers.

Too many lives and too much money are being squandered for foolish foreign crusades. What the U.S. needs is a more restrained foreign policy. That is, a foreign policy for a republic rather than an empire.

Doug Bandow, a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, is the Robert A. Taft fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance and the author of "Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire."

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