The real issue is whether 4 percent of GDP (much less Fred Thompson’s even more generous proposal for a floor of 4.5 percent) is justified given America’s legitimate security needs. A nation that spends as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, has weak and friendly neighbors and faces no serious peer competitor anywhere in the world for at least the next 15 to twenty years should not have to increase military spending from its already lofty height.
Nor is it necessary to greatly boost spending to combat Al‐Qaeda and its ilk. With the exception of the war in Afghanistan, most of the increased military outlays over the past six years have had nothing to do with countering that threat. The Pentagon and its allies simply exploited the public’s fears following 9/11 to fund items that the Department of Defense had had on its wish list for many years. Much of the campaign against Al‐Qaeda consists of glorified law enforcement, not large‐scale military enterprises. Some of the most impressive successes against that organization have come in places such as Hamburg, London and Madrid. To be blunt, we don’t need to spend 4 or 4.5 percent of GDP on the military to counter a few thousand stateless fanatics. The hype employed by some conservative panic mongers to the contrary, the terrorist threat is not the functional equivalent of World War III, and we do not need to fund the military as though it is.
By adopting a more rigorous and judicious security strategy, a nation with America’s geographic and technological advantages should be able to make significant cuts in its military outlays, not increase them.
Mr. Talent and his colleagues at the Heritage Foundation are oblivious to that opportunity because they are unwilling to reconsider any of the security obligations the United States has accumulated over the past six decades. If we once had to defend a weak and war‐ravaged democratic Europe from a powerful and aggressive Soviet Union, we must continue taking care of the continent’s security needs in the 21st century — even though democratic Europe is now rich and the Soviet Union no longer exits. The Heritage Foundation is the Will Rogers of security commitments; it has never met one it didn’t like. Not only do Heritage analysts want to retain all of America’s Cold War–era obligations, they urged Washington to undertake a host of murky new missions (as in the Balkans and Iraq) that are both dangerous and unrewarding.