“I am fully committed to strengthening America through our values, through a growing economy, and through a military that’s second to none,” Romney said. “I will not cut the military budget. I will instead expand our essential weapons programs and our (number of) active-duty personnel. I do these things not so that we have to fight wars, but so that we can prevent wars.”
According to Mitt, not only do we not need to cut defense, we actually need to spend more! And we need to do this to prevent wars, presumably because otherwise our “enemies” whomever they might be, might be tempted to attack us or our allies.
Except that, you know, we already outspend the entire rest of the world in defense spending, and, oh by the way, most of the other major military powers in the world are actually allied to us. I mean, look at the “rogues” out there.
Iran. Oooh, scary. The Iranian regime is a thugish theocracy. I have no particular fondness for that regime. But look, according to SIPRI figures from 2010 we outspent Iran $687B to $7B. A 98-1 advantage is not enough to deter them? It needs to be, what, 100-1? More?
How about North Korea. There are no reliable figures for North Korean defense spending, but their entire GDP is around $30 billion. Our defense budget is 20x greater than their entire national income. Indeed, South Korea alone spends about the same on defense as North Korean GDP.
Then you get China. We outspend them at least 5-1. But what’s more, China isn’t some weird “rogue” country. It is our most important economic partner. As I’ve written elsewhere:
China and the United States are tightly bound together by economics. They are our second largest trading partner. They hold hundreds of billions of U.S. debt. Our countries are intertwined not just as matter of interests, but as a matter of actual interrelations. The case for overlapping interests, in short, is not an abstract one. This is not like when people say that the U.S. and Pakistan have shared interests regarding Islamist extremism, if only the Pakistanis understood their interests properly. No, in the U.S.-China case, not only are there shared interests in the abstract, there is a potent record of action demonstrating those shared interests.
You’re telling me, Mitt, that in a time of constant calls for austerity that we need to increase defense spending as a hedge against our most important economic partner? Really?
And this is where I want to bring Reagan back in the mix of things.
I know this is a contentious issue, and indeed debates continue to rage over how much the Soviet Union actually spent on defense. But look, CIA estimates had the Soviets surpassing us in defense expenditures by the early 1970s in the wake of the post-Vietnam U.S. drawn down. This was surely wrong and reflected a massive over-estimate of the size of the Soviet economy in the 1970s. But even if we cut those estimates in half, we still get a major power spending 30-60% of what the U.S. was spending. We barely traded with them. We were engaged in an ideological struggle around the world and proxy conflicts in various regions.
I don’t want to re-litigate the Reagan arms build-up. My only point is that when Reagan pitched “peace through strength” and the need to increase spending to deter Soviet aggression, he was, at least, operating in some sort of reality-based construct. Reasonable people can — and did — disagree about the need for increased defense spending in 1980. But even had Carter been re-elected we’d have seen a massive buildup. Carter’s final Five Year Defense Plan (FYDP) called for a significant ramp up in spending.
But now, here we are in 2012. We’re running massive deficits and Romney and his ilk are using that to justify cuts in services. We spend more on defense than the rest of the world combined. We outspend all plausible threats combined by at least 10-1 and in some individual cases 100-1, leaving us to contemplated spending more on defense to deter our more important trading partner, who, by the way, we already outspend 5-1. It is just madness.