Commentary

A Military Budget for a Republic

This article appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, on December 7, 1998.

After its surprisingly weak showing in last month’s elections, the Republicans decided to showcase their agenda for the coming year. Newly elected Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, gave the party’s radio address, calling for more military spending as he denounced America’s high tax burden.

”We cannot allow continued deterioration of our national security,” Crapo argued.

The GOP spent much of last year lambasting the Clinton White House for inadequate defense outlays. But President Clinton stole the Republicans’ thunder. He agreed to an extra $ 9.5 billion for the Pentagon as part of October’s big-spending budget deal.

Yet even that isn’t enough for Republicans, such as Sen. Crapo, who want even more defense dollars.


By itself, the U.S. accounts for about one-third of all military outlays worldwide, spending more than four times as much as Russia, almost eight times as much as China and more than twice as much as Britain, France, Germany and Japan combined.


The GOP viewpoint seems to be captured by the lament of North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones: ”The U.S. military that won the Cold War and the Gulf War no longer exists.”

But there’s no reason why that military should still exist. The Cold War is over. America won. Even though the world remains dangerous, it isn’t particularly dangerous to the United States.

Monday, December 7, was the 57th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the U.S. into World War II. But the world, and America’s place in it, is much different today.

Unlike ‘41, America stands astride the globe as a military colossus. The U.S. and her allies account for 80% of the world’s military expenditures.

By itself, the U.S. accounts for about one-third of all military outlays worldwide, spending more than four times as much as Russia, almost eight times as much as China and more than twice as much as Britain, France, Germany and Japan combined.

America faces no serious conventional threats. Russia’s armed forces are but a pale shadow of what they were under the Soviet regime. China has potential, and the advantage of sheer manpower, but will take years to create a truly world-class military.

Pariah regimes such as Iraq and North Korea are poor, isolated and imploding. Those nations aren’t capable of making war on America.

Nor are U.S. allies at risk. Defense outlays by Britain, France and Germany combined outpace those of Russia by 50%. Japan matches China’s military spending.

South Korea devotes three times as much as North Korea to its military. And with 29 times the gross domestic product and twice the population of its northern neighbor, it could do far more.

Yes, America does remain vulnerable to nuclear attack. That’s why research and deployment of a missile defense should be a top priority. Terrorism is an obvious concern, but that’s largely the result of misguided intervention abroad.

It’s also true that U.S. forces are being stretched, but not in the defense of America. Instead, Clinton is dissipating military strength on frivolous missions, such as attempting to force three antagonistic ethnic groups to live together in a united Bosnia.

Washington’s threatened intervention in Kosovo, one of a score of civil wars and ethnic conflicts raging around the globe, is another example of unnecessary Wilsonian warmongering. In cases like these, the Clinton administration is risking the lives and wealth of Americans for nothing.

Equally foolish are efforts to defend populous and prosperous allies who should have graduated from Washington’s defense safety net long ago.

Europe has a larger combined economy and population than does America. Yet the Pentagon seems committed to a policy of whatever has been, must always be.

The military seems more interested in preserving its budget than in adjusting its role for the world that is emerging after the Cold War. A new report promises to keep 100,000 soldiers in East Asia indefinitely. And the Pentagon proposes to expand security ties with Laos and Mongolia, which lies between China and Russia.

What Sen. Crapo and many of his Republican colleagues don’t understand is that the tax burden is too high in part because military spending is too high. Outlays have fallen from their peak in ‘85, but inflation-adjusted spending remains what it was in ‘80, during the Cold War. Without a Soviet Union or a real threat of hegemonic communism, Washington should cut military expenditures far more.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and former special assistant to President Reagan.