Benjamin Friedman sets out an alternative to continued excessive military spending. Here he reviews how much the U.S. currently spends:
Despite five years of official complaints about “sequestration” budgets, U.S. military spending remains historically high. In 2016, U.S. military spending will be $607 billion, including $59 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, the fund that ostensibly finances wars but also funds non-war (or base) accounts. Barring a new budget deal, the fiscal year 2017 budget, now stuck in Congress, will be virtually the same size.
In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, Americans spend more on the military today than at any point in the Cold War, except the brief peaks during the Korean War and the 1980s [bold mine-DL]. Current military spending is 36 percent higher in real terms than in 2000, with two-thirds of the growth in base spending. The United States spends more than double what Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea collectively spend on their militaries.
The U.S. already spends far more on the military that it plausibly needs for its own security and even that of our treaty allies, but then our political leaders assume that our role in the world involves much more than that. Our government pursues a costly strategy that “sees threats everywhere and prescribes U.S. forces everywhere to meet them,” as Friedman puts it. As long as the U.S. insists on trying to be “indispensable” throughout the world, military spending won’t be reduced, and there will be a constant demand to spend more. The cost of global “leadership” for Americans will only continue to rise over time. Even if maintaining this role were desirable for the U.S., it is not sustainable.
Friedman spells out what restraint would mean in practice:
Restraint-oriented reforms can help, cutting at least 25 percent from the current $600 billion plus. Savings would arrive gradually, as the United States exited alliances, ended wars, closed facilities, and retired forces. Those cuts would be achieved by reducing commitments and military units. Divesting force structure would allow substantial savings in personnel, operations and maintenance, intelligence, and real estate costs.
In addition to the money saved through restraint, the U.S. would also avoid frittering away the lives and health of soldiers in numerous unnecessary and open-ended wars in parts of the world where U.S. interests are few or non-existent. If the U.S. pursued a much less ambitious strategy than it does now, it would not only allow military spending to fall, but it would also keep the U.S. out of many future conflicts that it would otherwise feel compelled to join.