The Economist makes a good point:
America’s unthinking reverence for its fighters is forestalling a badly needed reappraisal of how it organises its forces, and to what end. The fact is, America’s foreign-policy doctrines envisage a degree of global dominance, based on military might, which its volunteer force is now too small to enforce. And to increase the force sufficiently, on current trends, appears unaffordable or impossible. “This force cannot carry out that foreign policy,” concludes Andrew Bacevich, a historian and former army officer, who happens also to be a Gold Star father.
This constitutes a looming crisis, which could logically end in one of two ways. Either America will have to reintroduce conscription. Or it must curtail its military ambitions. Neither outcome is palatable to American policymakers, however, so the problem is seldom discussed. Maintaining the happy delusion that America’s forces are ideal and irreproachable makes that easier. But reality cannot be deferred indefinitely.
There's more at the link. Recommended reading.
Commenting on the Economist article, CDR Salamander writes:
We need to finish up the wars we have. Give our friends enough notice to get their defenses in place, as we need to come home.
. . .
We are a maritime, air, and space power. That is our competitive advantage. We were not designed to sustain, nor do we need, a large standing Army. We need to demobilize and shift to a largely balanced towards National Guard and Reserved land forces. If our rich friends are under threat from ground forces, then they should reflect that in their military investments. We can argument them from the sea, air, and space - and if needed, begin to mobilize land forces.
Our military spending could, and should, be 30% less than it is right now if we really believe that we should be a mercantile republic. If as a nation we decide that we are a global empire in style and action - then keep doing what we are doing.
We aren't. We shouldn't.
Does anyone really think the path we are on is that desirable or sustainable? Ignore the domestic spending challenge - that isn't "our" wheelhouse. Do you want to be a citizen of a republic blessed with relatively good neighbors and large oceans - or an empire that desires and is expected to bleed blood and gold to protect people who won't protect themselves, or to rule people who have no desire to be ruled?
Must we always be searching for dragons to slay, both real, imagined, or of our own creation?
Again, more at the link.
From one point of view, I tend to agree with both perspectives. The reason for larger-than-domestically-needed armed forces has always been jingoistic, to a greater or lesser extent.
- To the French revolutionaries, it was "Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!" - and they were going to make good and sure you got them, whether you wanted them or not.
- To the British, forming their Empire, it was imperialism and the "white man's burden". They proudly boasted that "The sun never sets on the British Empire!" (to which their detractors replied that this was because God would never trust an Englishman in the dark).
- To the USA, it was at first "manifest destiny", and later (after the Spanish-American War) straightforward imperialism. After World War II, during and after the Cold War, it was a deliberate effort to compete with the Soviet Union for spheres of influence.
- For the Soviet Union under communism, it was an attempt to spread communism worldwide and oppose imperialism and capitalism.
- To Germany it was "lebensraum" and, under the Nazis, Aryan racial superiority.
- To Imperial Japan it was "Fukoku kyōhei".
- To modern China, it's an attempt to demonstrate that the nation is now a superpower to rival the USA, and can no longer be constrained by the interests and influence of, or pressure from, other nations. The memory of the "unequal treaties" and systematic abuse by colonial powers still rankles. Militarization and expansionism are public repudiations of these evils.
At the moment, the USA is still deployed worldwide in an anti-communist, anti-terrorist posture, and expending vast sums on supporting, arming and aiding allies (who may be more or less reliable as such). As CDR Salamander observes, we could save at least a third of our military budget by stopping that. However, there's the counter-argument that "nature abhors a vacuum". In the geopolitical sense, this postulates that if one power withdraws its presence from a country or region, another power will inevitably and necessarily step in to take its place (most Western observers see China in this light today). My question is, does that matter? Is it really that important any more? Some would say it is, some that it isn't. I don't know. I can only ask the question.
Whatever the answer, I think the Economist and CDR Salamander deserve our attention. Given the demands on our limited national resources, and our immense national debt, should we be making the latter even worse by spending more on defense than we can afford?