Foreign Affairs has a fascinating article by Richard Betts in its November/December issue that argues that the United States has developed an almost completely irrational defense spending policy:
If Rip Van Winkle had fallen asleep in the Pentagon’s budgeting office 20 years ago and awoke today, his first reaction would be that nothing had changed. President George W. Bush has asked for $505 billion for the peacetime U.S. military establishment in 2008 — almost exactly the amount, in real dollars, that President Ronald Reagan sought in 1988. Rip would start scratching his head, however, when he discovered that the Soviet empire and the Soviet Union itself had imploded more than 15 years ago and that Washington now spends almost as much on its military power as the rest of the world combined and five times more than all its potential enemies together. Told that Pentagon planners were nonetheless worried about overstretch and presidential candidates were vying to pledge even higher budgets and even larger forces, Rip’s head might just explode.
It’s a great piece, one that examines the need for what Betts calls strategic solvency in the context of other pressing needs, like adequately funding domestic programs as well as foreign policy programs, like the State Department, which currently lacks the resources to make much of a dent in the problems plaguing the developing world. If anything has become clear in the last twenty years about American foreign policy, it would seem to be the idea that we need to have a proactive response to religious and economic anti-Americanism in the developing world, something that an enormous military will be unable to change.