Donald Trump has made headlines recently by calling for increased military spending. The question that Americans should be asking now is, “Is lack of military spending the problem?”
The United States already spends more on its military than the next eight nations combined (those being China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France, Japan, and Germany). In fiscal year 2015 that amounted to USD $596 billion, or 3.3% of our GDP.
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We are also USD $19 trillion in debt, thanks to the reckless spending of 16 years of the Bush and Obama presidencies, aided and abetted by a criminally negligent Congress. Our massive military budget instantly brings to mind what it called “pork” in American parlance: the massive projects and investments, and the jobs that come with them, that members of Congress routinely promise to deliver to their constituents back home. In a tight race, making good on such district funds can be the difference between another term in Washington, or packing up your office.
There are few members of the House or Senate who truly exist to put principles above politics. After all, voting against a naval or air base, or additional funds for a military barracks, or a defense contractor, is political suicide. Inevitably, members of Congress help each other out.
“If you vote to keep open that naval base in my district, then I will vote to relocate the helicopter assembly plant to yours.”
And around and around and around we go on the wheel of fiscal ruin and irresponsibility; shrouding it in the name of military preparedness and patriotism.
The truth of the matter is that America is not currently at any great existential risk. What we need is not a larger military, but a smaller, smarter military, prepared to take on dangerous terrorist groups when needed, and participate in peacekeeping missions around the world, again, as needed.
From a foreign policy standpoint, Trump excited libertarians because he discussed an issue that the Ron Paul wing of the Republican Party has so often discussed: the phenomenal cost of our overseas military presence.
Why should wealthy nations in Eastern and Western Europe and East Asia expect the United States to shoulder a disproportionate share of their defense budgets? Surely 70 years ago in the post-World War II era there were good reasons that the United States was prepared to extend significant military and economic aid packages throughout the world. We helped to resurrect their economies through the massive Marshall Plan, and rebuilt their infrastructure and commerce.
Three generations later, it is time for a change.
Trump is not saying that the US should leave its allies high and dry, or that the US would allow aggressive geopolitical actors (mainly Russia and China) to intimidate or threaten the territory of their neighbors with impunity. What he is saying is that it is time for a renegotiation. It is time for a new deal for the American people and the American taxpayers.
Which brings us to the crucial issue of paying for another USD $500 billion for the military, or a budget increase of 13% for the Defense Department, or whatever it ends up being. Trump has been very vague regarding his plans to pay for it, insisting that it will be revenue neutral, and will be paid for by eliminating waste from current government budgets.
The United States should have the best military in the world. But there is no need for a 13% budget increase in order to do that. In fact, we should be spending far less on our military, especially as we reckon with the disastrous consequences of the past 16 years.
We do not need a military prepared to engage in costly and reckless nation building and military adventurism. We need a military that is prepared to battle terrorism, aid in keeping the peace, and provide sufficient deterrence to our enemies. We can certainly do that on less than $500 billion a year.