Military Spending Cuts Could Destroy International Peace

If you could pick the worst analogy to justify defense cuts, what would it be? One good runner up would be one offered by retired finance professor Michael S. Rozeff, who penned an op-ed arguing that we should cut defense spending by 75% because President Harry Truman did that after WWII and everything turned out okay. We never even needed to bother responding to the Soviet acquisition of atomic and hydrogen weapons, or the invasion of Korea, because we know that in hindsight that communism was weaker than capitalism. Had we boosted capitalism by cutting taxes needed for defense, we would have juiced the economy even further, and brought about world peace through commerce and the expansion of property rights. It would have worked then, and will work now.  

This requires that we ignore the fact that those cuts actually caused a massive recession and not an economic boom, and that it was unlikely the U.S. economy could do much better than it did in a world where all of its competitors lay in ruin.

This requires that we ignore the fact that Rozeff would’ve allowed the communists to unilaterally acquire a vast WMD arsenal in an era before mutually assured destruction was fully understood and institutionalized, and that he would gladly consign tens of millions of people to a North Korean gulag. 

This requires that we ignore the fact that we didn’t even understand how poorly the Soviet economy was doing until the late 1970’s and that even today there are massive issues with Chinese statistics. Besides those flaws the argument makes total sense. Or at least, total sense in an ideological fantasy land.

It is amazing that Rozeff lacks even a basic appreciation of historical subtlety given that unlike many people today he’s actually lived through the Cold War as an adult and, being a professor, probably read the papers too. Despite his age he seems to have missed out on the decades-long work our country has put into building up the current international order that is the foundation of commercial prosperity. It took years of work to finally understand the utter pointlessness of the nuclear buildup and then to pursue disarmament and communication policies with paranoid totalitarian regimes. It took years of sacrifice for American arms as well as the arms of American allies to rescue South Korea, and years of negotiation to construct a security framework in Asia that largely prevents international war. Even now it is largely American maritime power that keeps peace on the seas at a time when 9/10ths of all goods by weight and volume are transported by boat, and it the Chinese naval threat to this security that has been sending Asian states into our arms for the last few years.   

Security in Asia was not enhanced by commerce; if anything it is less secure today than ever. The same holds true for much of the Middle East and parts of Africa. Even Europe was secured less by commerce than by diplomatic agreements that led to the creation of the EU and the American security umbrella. Assuming that cutting the defense budget would create an economic boom - which many citizens of Virginia, Maryland, or anywhere else near a military base would contest - that still would not resolve most international problems because most of those are the result of internal political conflicts that our dollars would not fix.

It is true that defense spending can and should be cut; for example, the army could be shrunk, waste curtailed, and parts of the nuclear arsenal abolished (in an age of ICBMs, do we really need both nuclear bombers AND nuclear submarines?). But that hardly means the Department of Defense should be abolished, and doing so would not bring about economic prosperity at home or world peace abroad. Rozeff and others should really think before they use analogies so poorly and proscribe policies that do far more damage than they resolve; its notas though there aren’t good books out there on the subject to consult.