Discover more from Eunomia
A Mindless 'Strategy' of More Militarism for Its Own Sake
If strategy is matching means to ends, Bolton has completely failed to do that.
John Bolton answers the question of guns vs. butter exactly as you would expect him to:
First, Washington and its allies must immediately increase defense budgets to Reagan-era levels relative to gross domestic product [bold mine-DL] and sustain such spending for the foreseeable future. Federal budgets need substantial reductions to eliminate deficits and shrink the national debt, so higher military spending necessitates even greater reductions domestically. So be it.
Bolton offers up this terrible idea as one of the “critical elements” of a strategy for opposing China and Russia. The whole of Bolton’s “strategy” amounts to calling for more militarism and expanded security commitments without any definition of the goals that the U.S. is supposed to be pursuing. If strategy is matching means to ends, Bolton has completely failed to do that. That’s not surprising, since Bolton is an ideologue and policy arsonist rather than a strategist, but it is telling that his idea of a “strategy” just boils down to demanding more weapons and then threatening others with them. It is a mindless “strategy” of more militarism for its own sake.
U.S. military spending is already at record high levels in real terms. The current topline number is an outrageous and indefensible $858 billion. Hardliners still have the gall to claim that this is inadequate. Even though the U.S. spends as much as the next nine states combined, we are told that even this insane amount of spending is too little. Six of those nine states are allies or clients, and India is a partner of sorts. The U.S. spends almost three times as much as Russia and China combined.
Going to Reagan-era levels of military spending as a percentage of GDP (between 6.1 and 6.8%) means nearly doubling U.S. military spending to something like $1.5 trillion per year. There is no legitimate reason to expand the military budget that much. The U.S. already spends far too much on the military given how extraordinarily secure it is. We don’t need to spend as much as we do, and spending more isn’t going to buy us additional security in any case. Further ramping up military spending is just stoking arms races for the sake of stoking them. It will not make anyone more secure, and it could very easily make the U.S. and its allies less secure than they currently are if it makes a major war more likely.
There is also no chance that most allied governments are going to engage in similar splurging. It may be possible to get some states to increase their spending, but they aren’t going to dedicate resources to their militaries at Cold War levels because the threats that they face do not remotely justify that level of spending. As U.S. military spending increases, allied spending usually remains flat or may even go down as the allies assume that the U.S. will bear most of the burden by itself. If the U.S. wants to stop subsidizing the defense of wealthy allies, it will cut back on its military spending and deployments rather than add to them.
Unfortunately, Bolton is not as much of an outlier in this debate as he should be. Most of our political leaders seem very comfortable with huge increases in military spending now and in the future. Bolton’s “strategy” is nonsense, but it is not that far removed from current U.S. policy. That should alarm all of us.
Fueling an arms race with any major power is foolish, but it is doubly so when the other state has comparable economic strength. If the U.S. keeps throwing more money at the Pentagon as it has been doing, we should expect the Chinese government to do the same on their side. This will worsen the rivalry between our countries and make direct conflict more likely. That way leads to ruin.