Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard summed up the neoconservative case against cutting U.S. defense spending in a February 21 article entitled "The Stockman Temptation." In Ferguson's article, he recollected that President Reagan's Budget Director David Stockman had told Reagan back in the early 1980s that he must cut the defense budget in order to balance the budget. "Defense is not a budget issue," Reagan responded. "You spend what you need."
Reagan's statement revealed both an undeniable truth as well as the essential question on the appropriate level of defense spending. Nobody who believes in nationhood would argue that the nation shouldn't spend what it needs to defend the territory and citizens of the United States; without that defense spending we would soon no longer have a nation at all. On the other hand, only the economically ignorant would argue that unnecessary spending on armaments and soldiers would be anything but a tragic drag on the economy.
The essential part of Reagan's statement was the word "need." The United States now spends 54 percent of the money expended worldwide on defense, according to the Swedish-based Stockholm International Peace Research Institute's 2010 yearbook, i.e., more than the rest of the world combined. In real dollars, that's approximately $1 trillion per year in defense/security programs, once Defense Department outlays, the cost of the Iraq and Afghan Wars, and security spending in other federal agencies (such as Homeland Security, State, Energy, HHS, and intelligence) are included. It's a cost of nearly $9,000 per household in the United States every year.
Thus, with America in a budget crisis, many people are beginning to ask the essential questions:
* How much spending do we really need?
* Does the nation really need to spend more than the rest of the whole world combined to be safe, or is spending only more than the three or four next biggest spenders on defense enough?
* Can the United States leverage its uniquely advantageous global geographic position--isolated from much of the world by two oceans--to spend a little less than the next biggest spender?
One odd pair of Congressmen have decided the U.S. government can be safe and still spend a little less on defense: Representatives Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Barney Frank (D-Mass.). Last summer Paul, arguably the most conservative Congressman in Congress, and Frank, arguably the most liberal, proposed more than $100 billion in cuts in the defense budget for each of the next 10 years, partly based upon scaling back American troop commitments to Europe and some other foreign bases. The two noted that though the United States provided security for Europe and Korea during the Cold War when the two regions were impoverished from war, it's time to pull our troops out. The two argued in the capital-based periodical The Hill: "Sixty-five years later, we continue to play that role long after there is any justification for it. ... The nations of Western Europe now collectively have greater resources at their command than we do, yet they continue to depend overwhelmingly on American taxpayers to provide for their defense." Frank and Paul argue that this defense spending no longer fulfills a defensive "need" for protecting American citizens and their property. Some of their suggested savings include:
* $80 billion: Reduce troops in Europe and Asia by 50,000 (one-quarter of the total);
* $147 billion: Roll back Army and Marine Corps growth as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end;
* $176.6 billion: Reduce U.S. navy fleet to 230 ships and retire two (of 11) aircraft carriers;
* $ 157 billion: Cut or eliminate weapons systems--the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, MV-22 Osprey, kC-X Tanker, and Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle--and cut $50 billion in …