Defense policy is a topic that is extremely important in a presidential election cycle. While we all see and hear the debate between the left and the right, the debate within the right and within the left is seen less, even in a primary season. Everyone has seen and heard the “crazy Uncle Ron” jokes this election cycle regarding his national defense policy – but fewer have seen the actual debate between the right and the right. This debate is between the libertarian voluntarist and the conservative realists.
The conservative position in defense policy is incredibly simple. Private citizens have a right to having their life, liberty, and property defended from foreign aggressors. In a desire for this, we have collected ourselves together and pay taxes determined by a system of governance that we created and manage and submit to in order to supply, train, and manage an active military to prevent foreign powers from taking our rights to life, liberty, and free ability to pursue happiness. In this, we do not have a right to create empire because for our nation to do what we do not want done to us would make us hypocrites. This is a position that is held by conservatives as diverse as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) to Mitt Romney. It is also a reason why Pat Buchannan views the neo-conservatives (FDR Democrats that left in the 1960s over an argument over defense policy) as not real conservatives. It is also why most conservatives have denounced the Bush-era neo-conservative wars.
Defense spending should remain a certain percentage point of GDP (the debate on this number is more complicated than what should be dealt with on PolicyMic, though the range is generally 4% - 8% of GDP). Under this understanding, conservatives generally will advocate an increase in defense spending to the point of reaching there desired ratio to GDP. The position has led to an overall reduction of the percentage of the budget spent of defense over time. Taxes collected for defense purposes remains a constant value over time, save in times of war. We can see this in the fact that defense spending in terms of percentage of overall budget is going down while the budgets total cost on tax payers is going up. Again, this stance is held between a diverse numbers of conservatives. Ron Paul’s budget plan calls for dramatic cuts on war spending, but leaves military spending at a GDP baseline. At the same time, Mitt Romney’s plan holds defense spending to “4% of GDP.”
With this money, the government attempts to provide the necessary deterrents to prevent other nation-states from declaring war through research and development, a well trained voluntarily based military, and an active trade policy. The traditional conservative position on war is, simply put, that it is a last resort. While this has lost traction in the GOP (a party that has been toying with leaving conservatism for decades), most people on the right agree that war isn’t something that we should run towards, that nation building makes us less safe, and that the war on terror needs to be readdressed.
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