What’s so bad about a defense budget that gives peace a chance?

U.S. Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles of the 12th Army Cavalry regiment are unloaded at Busan, South Korea.
U.S. Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles of the 12th Army Cavalry regiment are unloaded at Busan, South Korea.
(Jeon Heon Kyun / EPA )

Guess we’re finally going to reap that “peace dividend,” courtesy of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who Monday proposed reducing the Army to its lowest troop level since before World War II. It’s all part of the Defense Department’s plan to scrape by on about half-a-trillion dollars next year.

Here’s how Hagel described the $496-billion budget plan: “This is a time for reality. This is a budget that recognizes the reality of the magnitude of our fiscal challenges, the dangerous world we live in, and the American military’s unique and indispensable role in the security of this country and in today’s volatile world.”

And here’s how just one of the undoubtedly thousands of critics who are waiting to pounce on this plan reacted. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News: “It’s all being sacrificed ... on the altar of entitlements. This president cannot take on mandatory spending, so all we’ve done in the Congress — and this president — is basically cut discretionary spending.”

Yep: We have to kill other people before we take care of our own!


But perhaps a little perspective is in order before we go blaming Obama for abandoning the country to the communist wolves (or whoever the enemy is) in favor of stuff like, you know, feeding hungry people and providing healthcare and Social Security to seniors and the like.

In 2013, the U.S. spent $682 billion on its military, or about 4.4% of GDP. That was 39% of world military spending.

Our closest, uh, pursuer? China — you know, the place that makes all those iPhones and iPads and TV sets we love — spent $166 billion, or about 2% of GDP, which was 9.5% of world military spending.

Oh yeah, and the evil Russkies? $90.7 billion, 4.4% of GDP, or 5.2% of world military spending.


After that came Britain, France and Japan — none of which, I feel confident in saying, is likely to launch a military strike against us in the foreseeable future.

So what are we really talking about here? Just how unsafe will America be spending “only” $496 billion?

Well, the plan is to downsize so that we can fight one land war, not two, at the same time. Seems reasonable, especially given that no ones seems to have the appetite to fight even one land war right now.

Also, the plan calls for building up the types of forces we used to kill Osama bin Laden. Which also seems reasonable, given that that operation worked out well (except for Bin Laden, of course). And it calls for focusing on cyber threats, which, given that the entire world now seemingly is run by computers and smartphones, also seems reasonable.


Now, I’m no pacifist. I see the need for a military. Given the way the world works, I even see the need for us to be the biggest military guy on the block. And I understand that, in some ways, military spending is government welfare for the wealthy: It provides rich contracts to companies in the defense industry, which in turn provide high-paying jobs to plenty of people.

But let’s not go all Chicken Little over this downsized military option. We still have the biggest stick, and at $496 billion, or $600 billion, or even $300 billion, that won’t change.

We’ve seen the limits of U.S. military power in the last decade or so. And we know the financial problems we’re having.

So why not try a little John Lennon, and give peace a chance?



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