Frank McCloud: “I know what you want, Rocco.”
Johnny Rocco: “Yeah? What do I want?”
McCloud: “You want more.”
Rocco: “Yeah, that’s right. I want more.” – Key Largo
In order to re-fight the Crusades and expand them to the Far East, Stanley Kurtz recognizes that we need a larger military:
Yet with the growing challenges we face, an eventual expansion of our military is in the cards. Of course, with Democrats eager to use that issue as a scare tactic against the Republicans, it will take another terrorist strike–-or a sea-going confrontation with China’s navy–to get us a bigger military. But wether via an expanded volunteer force or a draft, our military is destined to grow.
On the one hand, I suppose old Stanley deserves some credit. Not many conservatives have recognized that the imperial project undertaken by the Bush administration exceeds the current military means of the United States. Stanley’s position is quite the improvement on those who believe that token forces supported by air power will easily topple Iran, North Korea, and even China.
As Matt points out, Stanely appears to lack any understanding of the current US political environment, as he seems to believe that increased military spending would be so unpopular that Democrats could use it as an electoral club against the Republicans. He also doesn’t give any sense of the value-trade offs associated with increased military spending, nor any real measure of how much military force the United States needs to be secure.
That Kurtz is reluctant to make a cost-benefit analysis of increased US military spending is unsurprising. Such an analysis would put both the wisdom of tax cuts and of the Iraq adventure into deep question. The first, by leading to enormous deficits, restricts the long-term ability of the United States to maintain a large military budget. The second represents an open-ended commitment that is now and will for the forseeable future remain the most important drain on US military resources. Any discussion of increased military spending, or, to be more specific, a more efficient allocation of military resources, has to consider these two questions, and neither make the Bush administration look good. Nevertheless, such an analysis is necessary. If we spend more on the military, we need to either cut back in other areas of spending or raise taxes. It’s unclear where cuts can be made in the current budget, so, in the absence of tax increases, we’re looking at borrowing the money. Who do we borrow the money from? China. In short, to fund a Cold War against China, we’re borrowing money from China. Moreover, the increasing size of the US debt, and the apparent lack of any interest in slowing down its growth, places a limit on just how much we can allocate to defense, a limit that becomes more onerous as time goes by.
Metternich would not be pleased.
Kurth also fails to give any account of how large the US military budget ought to be. US military predominance, now, is the greatest in the history of the modern state system. That the United States cannot use this power to as great an effect as, say, Great Britain in 1820 tells us that something has changed in the system, not that the United States is too weak. Nuclear weapons and nationalism mean that the glory days of an imperialistic foreign policy are either gone or prohibitively expensive. But, anyway, let’s entertain Stanley for a moment, and accept that the budget must grow. How large? How much should we spend? What do we need to be absolutely secure, to be certain of meeting all of our challenges?
The answer, of course, is that we cannot be absolutely secure. There is no amount that the United States can spend on defense that will eliminate all possible threats and all possible challenges. Indeed, increased military spending creates new challenges as often as it dispels them; imperial overstretch, massive debts, and anemic economic growth will eventually present more dire security challenges to the US than a Chinese carrier battle group. Moreover, increased military power begets balancing behavior as often or more often than it begets bandwagoning behavior, meaning that a new challenge will arise in the aftermath of every problem we “solve”.
This is not to say that we should cut, maintain, or increase our current levels of spending. Frankly, I think that our military dollar is spent in a dreadfully inefficient way, and that there is plenty of room to cut spending while still increasing US military power. To be even more frank, I think that some of the reforms of Rumsfeld and crew could be on the right track. My argument is that the responsibility for justifying increased military expenditures lies with those who call for them, and that there should be an assumption that less spending on defense is better than more spending, absent a clear threat. Moreover, in justifying a particular level of spending (and not just “more spending”), account must be taken of the costs that such a policy will incur.
Stanley isn’t trying to do any of that. He doesn’t grapple with the contradiction in the Republican coalition between tax cutters and imperialists, doesn’t justify any particular level of spending, and egregiously misreads American politics.