A U.S. Defense Budget Worthy of Its Name

November 18, 2010

By Christopher A. Preble and Benjamin H. Friedman

The non-war portion of the 2011 U.S. defense budget will be roughly $550 billion. That is more, in constant dollars, than we Americans spent on defense at the height of the Reagan buildup, in the midst of the Cold War. How could this be?

The primary cause is the plethora of missions given to the U.S. military. These days, policymakers want the U.S. military to:

# contain China,

# transform failed states into stable democracies,

# chase terrorists,

# train various foreign militaries to chase terrorists,

# protect sea lanes,

# keep oil cheap,

# democratize the Middle East,

# protect European, Asian and Middle Eastern states from aggression,

# spread goodwill through humanitarian missions,

# respond to natural disasters at home and abroad,

# secure cyberspace, and much more.

The military forces and budget needed to pursue these goals can never be enough. Defining the requirements of our defense so broadly is not just destructive of U.S. national wealth — but is also counterproductive.

Our global military activism drags us into others' conflicts, provokes animosity and encourages weapons proliferation. We can save great sums and improve national security by narrowing our goals and adopting a defense budget worthy of its name.

A more modest strategy -- let's call it a U.S. doctrine of military restraint -- starts with the observation that power tempts the United States to meddle in foreign troubles that we should avoid. George Washington set us on the right track in 1796 when he advised Americans "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."

Such restraint means fighting the temptation to occupy failing states and to extend indefinite commitments to defend healthy ones.

It would husband American power -- rather than dissipate it by spreading promises and forces hither and yon. Adopting this strategy would allow us to safely spend far less -- at least $1.22 trillion less over the next ten years, we estimate.

Continue reading.

This article was published at The Globalist on November 18, 2010, and can be read in its entirety here.


Christopher Preble is director of foreign policy studies, and Benjamin Friedman is a research fellow in defense and homeland security studies, at the Cato Institute.

Posted by coalition at November 18, 2010 09:29 PM

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