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More Militarism Will Not Make America Safer
Calling for a massive increase in military spending above these already exorbitant levels is foolish and irresponsible.
Roger Zakheim has a fever, and the only cure is more militarism:
Still, the solutions Reagan offered should be no less compelling. Yet 42 years later, leaders in both parties seem eager to make common cause with the detente-pushing realists, assuming that an aggressive Russia and a rising China are merely the facts of life in the 21st century.
U.S. military spending today is higher in real terms than at almost any point in American history. The military budget for next year will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $850 billion. While it is lower as a percentage of GDP than at many points in the past, that is because the U.S. economy is now much larger than it once was. Calling for a massive increase in military spending above these already exorbitant levels is foolish and irresponsible, and doing it out of misplaced nostalgia for the Reagan years is even worse.
We should seriously question whether Reagan’s “solutions” of throwing huge amounts of money at the Pentagon were necessary or wise at the time, but at least Reagan could point to the existence of a major superpower rival to justify such spending. Today there is nothing comparable that justifies further massive increases to military spending. Russia has demonstrated that its conventional forces are much weaker than most Western observers thought and its ability to project power is even more limited than previously assumed. Chinese military capabilities have significantly improved over the last twenty years, but their military spending remains a fraction of ours and their ability to project power is likewise limited.
If the reference to “détente-pushing realists” seems out of place, that’s because Zakheim is railing against a consensus that hasn’t existed for decades. Where are the “leaders in both parties eager to make common cause” with realists, much less advocates of détente? On the contrary, the bipartisan consensus today views constructive engagement with Russia and China as distasteful at best and as appeasement at worst. When was the last time anyone at the top levels of government used the word détente as anything other than an insult? The problem in Washington today is that almost no one wants to find paths to de-escalation with other major powers, and instead we have a bipartisan consensus that regularly seeks to antagonize and confront both Russia and China at the same time.
Doing what Zakheim wants would mean adding between roughly $200 and $500 billion to the Pentagon’s budget every year. That is money that could be more productively spent on domestic needs or returned to the people. It is not lost on the American public that Congress gives the military all the money that it wants and more while securing funding for any other constituency in this country is like pulling teeth. More Americans are realizing that huge military budgets do nothing to guard us against the things that truly threaten our security and welfare, including pandemics and climate change, and it makes no sense to drown the military in funding when so many other critical needs are underfunded or unfunded.
On top of all that, more military spending is unnecessary to ensure U.S. security because the U.S. is already extraordinarily secure and would still be secure if military spending were far lower. Ramping up military spending that much also practically guarantees that the Russian and Chinese governments will respond with huge spending increases of their own, and before long hawks would be back to insist that we need $2 trillion or $3 trillion annual budgets to remain “competitive.” More military spending would stoke a costly new arms race that the U.S. does not need, and arms racing is bound to increase tensions to the detriment of stability in the affected regions. More militarism won’t make America safer, and it will likely put the U.S. on a course to ruinous conflict.