The New Welfare State

America should stop wasting money by providing defense resources for half the world. Instead, we need to focus on defending ourselves.

The Republican Party is a wreck. The election was not quite as catastrophic as predicted-though if the Democrats take the two GOP Senate seats still at risk, things couldn't have turned out much worse. Continuing on its present course obviously is no option.

Most of the arguments on the Right so far have been between social and economic conservatives, but the Republican Party also needs to reconsider its foreign policy stance. Neoconservatives had their opportunity and their policies were found wanting. With President Barack Obama and likely Secretary of State Hillary Clinton almost certain to follow the usual liberal interventionist course, the GOP should respond with a policy of strategic independence rather than even more promiscuous global meddling. In short, conservatives should insist on a "defense" policy that actually promotes America's defense instead of promoting social engineering in other nations.

There's much loose talk among conservatives about the need to increase military spending to maintain a strong defense. Even Barack Obama campaigned to expand the military's size. But the image of the United States as a beleaguered innocent under siege by enemies around the world is embarrassing nonsense. America is the globe's dominant military player, with most of its "defense" spending having nothing to do with defending the United States.

In 2009, Washington will spend roughly $700 billion on the military. Adjusted for inflation, even the $515 billion for normal (non-Afghan/Iraq) operations is more than America spent annually during the cold war, Korean War, or Vietnam War. Yet then the United States faced the Soviet Union and, in the latter two cases, was fighting a very hot war. Today America faces no threats of comparable magnitude.

Indeed, the United States bestrides the globe as a colossus. It accounts for roughly half of the world's military spending. Washington is allied with every major industrialized state except China and Russia. As Colin Powell noted in 1991, after the Soviet Union's collapse: "I'm running out of demons. I'm running out of enemies. I'm down to Castro and Kim Il Sung." Nasty characters they were, but replacements for the "evil empire" they were not.

A revived Russia is dangerous only to its immediate neighbors. Its nuclear arsenal gives Moscow the power to deter Washington from attacking, but no more. Beijing spends more on its military-estimates of China's annual outlays top out at $100 billion or so-but not enough to catch up or surpass America's military capabilities. For instance, the United States has twelve aircraft carriers while China has none. And Asia is filled with countries with an interest in constraining Beijing: Russia, India, Japan and the ASEAN states.

Terrorism remains the most serious threat facing America, but it is not one amenable to solution via carrier groups, air wings and armored divisions. Indeed, using heavy conventional forces in an attempt to eliminate terrorism typically makes the problem worse-invading countries and killing civilians creates more grievances and more enemies. Better to target terrorist sponsors, use special forces in cooperation with indigenous allies, share intelligence among friendly states, dry up funding and break local organizations, and favor limited retaliation over nation-building where states have aided terrorists.

Not only is Washington spending too much money on the military, but the United States is deploying too many of its forces to defend other nations. For instance, troops in South Korea do nothing for American security. The Republic of Korea (ROK) has twice the population and around forty times the GDP of the North. For the ROK to ask for American military aid is a bit like Washington begging for defense alms from Europe to deter a Mexican attack.

Japan enjoys the world's second-ranking economy and is fully capable of creating a world-class deterrent to any outside attack. Grant that some of its neighbors remain nervous about a more powerful Japan. That's still no argument for stationing a Marine expeditionary force in Okinawa. The United States should not babysit countries unwilling to work through antagonisms rooted in a conflict that ended more than six decades ago. Many nations want American protection. But so what? That doesn't mean Washington should waste money and risk lives to maintain a gaggle of international welfare queens.

U.S. forces in Europe, whether located in Britain, Germany, the Balkans or Donald Rumsfeld's famous "new Europe" to the east, have equally little to do with American security. After all, the European Union collectively has a larger GDP and population than the United States. Why should American taxpayers subsidize the continent's defense so Europeans can fund lavish welfare states? If the Europeans don't believe they face a threat serious enough to warrant creating and maintaining modern and professional military forces, that's their privilege. America shouldn't bail them out by taking over their defense.

In any case, a Russian attack on the core Western European states for whose defense Washington created NATO is about as likely as an invasion from Mars. The former members of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact along Russia's border understandably feel more vulnerable, but Moscow is acting more like a traditional great power interested in border security than an ideologically expansionist power planning a war of conquest. That means it desires influence rather than control.