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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 5, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Military spending: Drawing down right

A retired test pilot writes:

I am not arguing for either having done, or continuing, Iraq or Afghanistan. Those were past decisions made by civilian leaders, that arguably had the effect of essentially seriously hurting our defense readiness over the long term. Those actions were implemented by our armed forces, at the direction of the President and Congress. They were not caused or initiated by our armed forces. They each arguably siphoned off resources, and fatigued equipment, otherwise needed by our country for defense for the long haul.

Instead, I am arguing for assuring serious defense readiness, and spending a reasonable fraction of our hard earned tax money, and hence suitable fraction of GDP, on the necessary force revitalization, to assure our country’s present and future defense. That action is critical for our future, particularly in a very unstable world. It is likely to become yet

more critical if we truly are in an era of seismic shifts, literally and figuratively, considering climate change, oceans rising, multi continent massive crop failures, NEO threats, famine, fresh water shortages, pathogens spread globally, loss of nuclear materials, and re-kindled religious extremism.

As Carl Sagan once correctly noted, only now, in the past few decades of mankind’s 250 million or so years of existence, do a small band of rogue individuals have it in their sole power to perhaps globally end civilization as we know it. The effect could be as profound as the Mt. Toba event of 70,000 years ago. So preserving our nations options for defense at this point, is the right choice for us, as well as for all the globe’s population. It is why we’ve had an era unprecedented in history since WWII, that 1,000 years from now may perhaps be known as the “Pax Americana”.

In my view, it is time to step back, and take a broader look, and get the right balance of fiscal responsibility, being prudent in our discretionary spending, and maintaining or even enhancing our defense investment. Otherwise there may be no funds for, or even the need for either Medicare or Social Security in this country. If 10,000 years of recorded history,

including Greece, Rome, and Persia, now teach us anything.

There’s much to agree with in his assessment. It is no coincidence that we have seen the longest period without a conflict between major nation-states in centuries. It is a result of Pax Americana. That rests not only on a strong military and deterrent, but also the multi-national institutions we put in place after World War II and our efforts to peacefully manage China’s rise and welcome it into the family of nations.

I am in favor of a strong military. My concern is that the system has become so corrupted by self-interest and zombie programs that mere spending alone is not a measure of effectiveness. Tom Ricks, well-respected by line officers, is of the same mind. And we can’t continue to be the force behind Pax Americana without a strong nation at home — in other words, more than a 1970 infrastructure, or misplaced austerity that wrecks opportunity. I also don’t like the idea that the Royal Navy has been gutted and the EU is a “free rider” on us policing the sea lanes upon which it depends.

In 1941, before Pearl Harbor, the Truman Committee was formed, chaired by an obscure senator from Missouri and charged with investigating war profiteering, waste and inefficiency in defense spending. As Wikipedia notes, the committee “proved to be one of the most successful investigative efforts ever mounted by the U.S. government: an initial budget of $15,000 was expanded over three years to $360,000 to save an estimated $10-15 billion in military spending, and thousands of lives of US servicemen.”

We need a Truman Committee today. The trouble is that we lack a Harry Truman or perhaps any member of Congress who is not in the pocket of the Military-Industrial Complex.

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