David Rothkopf

Spending equals strength and other old-think fallacies

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, the Carnegie Endowment’s Robert Kagan had an op-ed in which he argued against defense budget cuts. Neatly sidestepping the reality that the United States spends an amount on defense equal to the total of that that paid out by every other country in the world added up, Kagan (for whom I ...

In Tuesday’s Washington Post, the Carnegie Endowment’s Robert Kagan had an op-ed in which he argued against defense budget cuts.

Neatly sidestepping the reality that the United States spends an amount on defense equal to the total of that that paid out by every other country in the world added up, Kagan (for whom I have a lot of respect) repeats all the usual arguments that defense spenders typically offer concluding, "this is not the time to start weakening our armed forces."

This buys into the conventional mythology of the defense sector so much that it is a little akin to worrying that not leaving out cookies will result in Santa leaving fewer presents. The fallacy: there is a direct correlation between the amount we spend on defense and our level of security. In a perfect world all such spending would be optimally efficient. It’s not. We have a country in which we have four often highly redundant service branches with multiple air forces, navies, ground forces, intelligence agencies. We also have huge overhead and notoriously inefficient procurement processes. After all, if we spent more efficiently, someone might actually conclude that the "permanent war" stance we have adopted since the Second World War (to avoid a post-war recession or return to the depression that ushered in the conflict) was due for a rethink.

For example, isn’t it possible that if we spent say, only 80 percent of that spent by every other country in the world added up we might still be secure…if we spent a little more wisely and perhaps through effective diplomacy managed our burden-sharing more effectively?

(By the way, soon we’re not going to have a choice so it is time for the self-proclaimed realists to get real, and think about how to stretch those defense dollars further.)

 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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