Friday, January 12, 2007
They say I walk around like I got an S on my chest:
Chris From The Block asks:
I thought of a question that I’d like to see every presidential candidate asked: “Is it your position that that United States must have the world’s largest and most expensive military, and if so, why?”

I think it’s a surprisingly hard question to answer on its merits. Clearly if 9/11 has shown anything it’s that a massive military apparatus doesn’t necessarily protect us (and by extending our footprint into places like Saudi Arabia might make is into targets). And there’s no reason to suppose that a smaller US military would make us significantly more vulnerable to attack from, say, North Korea. I mean, I’m not saying the US becomes Japan (though they seem pretty safe and free of terrorism, thanyouverymuch), but can you really argue that Italy or France are less safe than the US or more imperiled by international threats because they have smaller militaries?
As they say, it's not the size; it's how it's used. The security threats that we face as a nation have to do primarily with our position as the predominant global superpower. The size and allocation of military assets is driven by this, and also leads to the preservation of that status. Italy and France aren't safer because they have smaller militaries -- France has the biggest military in Europe, and therefore one of the largest on the planet -- but rather because their global reach and aspirations are constrained, relative to us. If Italy decides tomorrow that it wants to take up America's global commitments, it will find that it needs a vastly larger military to avert the disasters that hegemony tempts.

Now, we don't necessarily need a half-trillion-plus annual expenditure on the military. But as long as we like remaining the world's only superpower, we'd be irresponsible not to have a hugely outsized martial force relative to the rest of the world. Chris is right that even with such a massive military, we're going to remain vulnerable to asymmetric attack, but that's sort of true by definition. The issue has more to do with being the global equivalent of 50 Cent -- a mercurial, violent paranoiac possessing undeniable greatness, intensely loyal to a select few, merciless to most others and determined to remain on top of the heap by any means necessary. We get ours the ski mask way. As a result, we had better stay strapped.
--Spencer Ackerman
We need the world's largest Navy. We do not need the ability to fight large -- or even medium-sized -- land wars on other continents. We need enough nuclear weapons to deter an attack on us, and that is a lot less than we have already.

Laney
Blogger Laney | 2:09 PM

Though it was obviously more pronounced during the Cold War, France and Italy are also safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't let anyone buck em down.

This vicarious form of protection is probably more pronounced in the post-Cold War era with Japan. We are their military when it comes to detering China and/or NoKo.

So it's best that we walk around town with a pound strapped down at our side...
Blogger Eric | 2:56 PM

I'm surprised you didn't jump on the essential incorrectness of the original question. Though I don't doubt that we have the most expensive military in the world, I'm pretty sure China has the largest. And that works with your 50 Cent analogy: we don't roll deep, but we roll hard.
Blogger Kanishka | 5:21 AM

as long as we like remaining the world's only superpower, we'd be irresponsible not to have a hugely outsized martial force

Sorry, is this "as long as we have the biggest military by far, we should have the biggest military by far"?

Or is there some other conception of "only global superpower" that you had in mind?
Blogger Andrew | 7:40 AM

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Blogger Andrew | 7:40 AM

Kanizzle, I don't think that Chris meant largest in terms of ground forces. And in terms of defense spending, we're like a bajillion times the Chinese, so I figured I'd speak to that point. I do, of course, like how you've run with the 50 Cent allegory.

Andrew, being a superpower is not simply a function of military superiority. I was trying to make a value-free statement about the real issue being our extensive global commitments driving our defense posture, rather than the other way around.
Blogger spencerackerman | 8:51 AM

being a superpower is not simply a function of military superiority. I was trying to make a value-free statement about the real issue being our extensive global commitments driving our defense posture, rather than the other way around.

Spencer, I absolutely agree. But at the risk of sounding like one of those"no blood for oil" types, part of America's superpowerdom entails consuming 24 barrels of oil per person annually, compared with a global average of about 4 barrels. Securing the nation's fuel is a strategic committment; recall that cutting off the Nazi oil supply was what finally won WWII.

I certainly don't think that oil was the only reason to go into Iraq, but I do think it's the only thing we're getting out of it.
Blogger djw | 12:26 PM