George Will had a strange (for him) piece on the debate and the rise of the “Come home America” view on foreign policy that didn’t quite hang together and that led me and one of my wiser friends to say, “if only.” But it did have this wonderful line:
Romney thinks America should have “a military second to none,” which it will have until the next dozen or so largest militaries merge.
This underscores a point that few Americans seem to realize: U.S. defense spending is enormous relative to what other states are spending. Here is a nice figure from the CFR that shows that Will actually understates the point. U.S. defense spending is over 40% of total world defense spending! That means we spend nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. And most of the next top spending states Will jokes about are U.S. allies rather than serious counterbalancers.
Of course, military spending discussions shouldn’t be fixated on statistics like “defense spending as a % of GDP” or even this one comparing US spending to that of the rest of the world (though that might help us get at the nature of the current threat environment). What it should be centered on is a proper analysis of what ends the US should seek (and at what level of risk acceptance/aversion we’d be comforable with given that 100% security, for example, is impossible), the threat environment in which one is trying to meet those ends, and the best/proper/most efficient means to achieve those ends given those threats (and considering non-defense goals that are trade-offs to defense spending).
Unfortunately, policy-makers, the BOSNYWASH foriegn policy establishment, and defense contractors don’t really want to have that discussion outside the 45 yard lines – nor are Americans really inclined to think seriously about trade-offs among ends and what such high levels of defense spending mean.
Support the troops, a military second to none, air shows are cool, We’re #1, we have a responsibility to protect, and so on and so forth.