How much would the U.S. spend on "defense" if it was ONLY for defense

(awkward title, I know)

Well, the department of war got changed to the Department of Defense. The country obviously cannot support paying for endless global warfare. It’s a joke to talk about cutting social security, entitlements, welfare etc when the USA spends almost 5x as much on “defense” as the nearest rival China.

Say we cut back on our 11 carrier groups, patrolled only our own waters, removed all foreign military bases, and perhaps beefed up our coast guard and border patrols. What percentage would the defense spending shrink while maintaining (or I contend, would actually improve) current levels of national security?

I maintain that this is the only sane idea, and should have support from both conservatives (supposedly love small gov’t but fetishize the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars ever…the military), and progressives (who don’t like killing foreigners as much as conservatives do). I have never actually encountered someone who justifies us having our bloated military that wasn’t actually in the military themselves, so why is it not a more popular idea?

I would like to know in percentage and sheer dollars per year what would be saved, because I’d like to fantasize about what a paradise it would be to live here if we invested in our own infrastructure and education/people instead of bombing dessert dwelling illiterates who just want us out of their country. :slight_smile:


Not that I think it is a particularly good policy idea, but it is an interesting question.

Here’s my thought: the US decides to get rid of power projection capabilities (including aircraft carriers, almost all of the blue water navy, long-range bombers, and satellite programs like GPS), missile defense, nuclear weapons, investments in high-tech systems like stealth and most submarines, closed bases abroad and domestically, and so on – pretty much went down to the bone – I’d say our defense budget probably wouldn’t be that much bigger than Canada’s. So, call it in the range of $30 to 40 billion or so, down from roughly $600 billion today.

ETA: Actually, I shouldn’t say this isn’t “a particularly good idea.” It’s a very bad idea.

I’d think you would still want to keep some nukes, for their deterrent capability. In the current global climate they aren’t really useful as offensive weapons, but they are a sure fire, and relatively cheap, way to prevent invasion, which is why places like Iran want them.

It might not be reasonable to cut all the way down to Canadian levels, since after all we have a larger population than Canada. We could certainly cut down to the same per capita level as Canada, though.

I’m not sure there would be much of a reason for the US to keep a strategic deterrent under the type of foreign policy that the OP is basically proposing. The US wouldn’t be a player on the world stage anymore. Who, exactly, would we be seeking to deter, if our entire foreign policy is based on trade and diplomacy?

Also, I understand that Canada’s defense budget is in the $20 billion range. I just figured we should add another $10 to 20 billion because of the geography of the US, in that our coastlines are heavily populated and we’d probably need more coast guard-like functions. (The current US Coast Guard budget is around $10 billion.)

I see this argument all the time, and it always puzzles me. Do you really, seriously think that the US and China have the same level of defensive commitments world wide? Seriously? China’s military is for local defense (partly to defend the party in power from their own people) and regional power projection. The US has GLOBAL commitments that, well, span that globe thingy we live on. It’s an apples to alligators comparison that is meaningless.

Now, if you want to say that we shouldn’t be committed on a global scale, that’s a different kettle of fish. But trying to compare the US and China’s annual defense budget is meaningless, since they are used in different ways.

Well, that’s the rub. What level of ‘national security’ are you willing to have? How important are your external commitments? How important is your trade? Do you foresee anyone else picking up the slack if you ease up…and, would they be the folks you’d WANT to pick up the slack, and, more importantly, are they going to cover you as well as themselves if they do?

We could certainly lower our budget for defense…in fact, I seem to recall that we ARE doing that already. I don’t know how much we could lower it before stuff starts to fall through the cracks…or before other powers start to take advantage of our over stretched capabilities.

And I maintain that liberals who are always gun-ho (:p) about cutting the military budget by large amounts have rarely thought it through, and don’t have a very good grasp on what our military actually does or what options it gives us wrt our foreign policy. I think that most folks who talk make these kinds of arguments do so without really trying to understand WHY we have such a large military, what it’s for and what it actually does…and how we, as a super power, use it, not just to project military power but also politically and diplomatically. It’s rather the same response that conservatives who simply want to cut ‘social programs’ take…they don’t really look into why we have the things, what they do for our society and what they are for.

First figure out what you are willing to give up in our current commitments overseas, to our various alliances, etc. If you want to fantasize, then take the entire budget (something like ~$600 billion/year) and dump that into social programs. What do you suppose that would buy us? And what would it cost us, both in terms of jobs lost (direct military, contractors, peripheral or secondary/tertiary jobs, etc). And then, what would it cost not just this country but our allies…and perhaps even our not-allies and even our out and out enemies. What effect would it have on trade? What effect would it have on regional stability? If you say none, well, ok…but what do you base that on? Who picks up the slack when the US can no longer move a carrier battle group into, say, the Med because of a flair up? Or into the IO or South Eastern Pacific…or anywhere else there might be a trouble spot? What might it cost if there were no troops on the DMZ in South Korea? None? Some? Lots (if there was, oh, say a war between North and South in one of the busiest trading routes in the world)?


Anyone interested in conquest, coercion or revenge; especially if they have nukes. And we’d still be almost as big a player on the world stage; economics are more important than military force these days. Our huge military is mostly a white elephant, a monument to our collective ego.

Then why couldn’t the British and French intervene in Libya last summer without US support considering its their backyard?

If we leave out Canada and Mexico, there isn’t really a country that is capable of projecting force into the United States, and there probably won’t for a few decades. Lob a few missiles, that’s possible. Terrorist attacks, yes. Conquest? No way. Just no way at all, because other countries don’t have the means to move an army across the oceans and sustain them against even minimal American resistance.

Huh. That’s the last thing I ever expected you to say on this topic. I figured you’d say something about the military being a mindless killing machine used for evil racist religious crusades, or something. Are you going soft on America, my man?

Do you really that a country like Canada would maintain it’s relatively low level of spending if the US suddenly cut its defense spending by > 90%.

I’m not saying that US defense spending in 2015 (or whenever this isolationist policy is adopted) would be roughly double what Canada’s defense spending would be at that same time in a world of American isolationism. I’m saying US defense spending would, as a swag, be roughly double in 2015 of what Canada’s spending is today. So any weaknesses in the Canadian military today (shortage of power projection, intelligence capabilities, and technology) would be replicated in the US. A US military with those limited capabilities would have a huge impact on lots of countries.

Thinking that you can’t be a “world player” with only diplomacy and trade is 19th, 20th century thinking. We have the technology and ability to have world peace right now, using the finest overwhelming force that money can buy at the expense of the American people to enrich weapons contractors doesn’t seem to be working.

For the sake of argument we would keep GPS because it is neccessary for non-military use.

Nukes would be considered defensive, and the cat is out of the bag. But for sanity’s sake how about we only keep enough nukes to nuke the entire world over say, ten times instead of thousands? We could keep a few subs within our territorial waters for stealth, this would still save billions yes?

Of course I’m assuming in my thought experiment that other countries will have to spend more for their own defense. So be it, I want full socialized medicine, amazing schools, to explore the stars, and infrastructure and the jobs that come with it. The military employs people to kill other people, our govt should employ people to build infrastructure so we can benefit from the dollars spent instead of exploding ordinance above goats and vaporizing the money.

We need to stop thinking of “only protecting our people and borders and not invading foreign countries for absolutely no reason” ISOLATIONISM, that is called “sanity”.

Perhaps you can explain these points more fully. In my thinking, there is no possible technology or skill that makes world peace possible. True peace is not part of human nature, it isn’t a product of things.

Then in really rough numbers you’d probably have to add a billion or more each year to maintain that whole system.

The thing is that if you wanted to keep one sub in each ocean, you actually need a few times that number in the inventory to keep them on station at all times. Subs and ships need to be maintained at regular intervals, so you may need two or three ships or subs to have one on station 24/7. That’s where things start getting expensive.

So says the guy who has most likely lived his entire life under Pax Americana and has never known anything else. :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh, well, that’s might nice of you. Do we get to keep all the advancements in prosthetic and medicine that have come out of the military as well? And advancements in avionics, rocketry, communications, etc etc?

So, you don’t see a problem with a lot of regional powers heavily ramping up their defense spending (and having a cascade effect of other counties in their region ALSO ramping up their spending)? Right now they aren’t doing that because it’s mostly pointless…if they are the US’s friend then they get the benefit of our military, and if they are a non-friend or an enemy then it doesn’t matter, since they pretty much know they can’t really compete. That hasn’t stopped nations like China from steadily raising their military budgets anyway, but they aren’t really doing it in the expectation they would be going toe to toe with the US, but more to assert their own regional power, influence regional nations, and also (in the case of countries like China) for their own perceived (or, hell, real) internal needs. But you think it’s a good idea to radically alter that equation, and that this wouldn’t make things look more like the 19th or early 20th century? We’re beyond all that now?


Of course I don’t. My whole point is we shouldn’t HAVE those commitments, I thought it would be obvious to anyone that read my OP. I would allow for a withdrawal plan for all overseas military bases, say even up to 30 year withdrawal plans, but the goal would be to spend money on AMERICA and less on killing people. Why is this idea crazy to you?

I think I can see why you were confused by the OP now. You think because I was saying we spend 5x more than China, that we should spend 1x as much as China. I’m saying we shouldn’t HAVE the global commitments that require 5x as much spending as China, and the savings should be spent at home. And also, killing people is bad (which is a radical concept to most Americans where it’s heroic and cool to kill brown people who can’t read and we should thank the grunt who shot someone for their service, because…magic)

Agreed, I don’t think Military spending is incredibly wasteful and inefficient for what we get out of it (well I do, but that isn’t my argument), just that all military spending that isn’t purely to defend the American people (NOT business interests) is wasteful, and probably immoral in most cases.

I feel perfectly safe at 2012 levels from external threat (in fact, I feel more unsafe from INTERNAL threats than any foreign extremists). So, if my goal is to cut as much military spending while maintaining the same level of safety for Americans in all 50 states, what would the savings be? I couldn’t care less about other countries who have gotten 60 years of free rides on military spending off of us suddenly having to defend themselves. But to be a good guy, my plan would be gradual so they all have a heads up that we won’t be protecting them in 20 or so years.

It’s my belief that the mega-rich American corporations are the biggest benefactors of our power projecting bully capabilities. I really don’t care, and don’t think we should be doing it because it’s wrong.

As a consequence Americans would be more self reliant, and I don’t see a compelling argument why I should be paying money to protect Seoul, they are not a poor nation and they already have Nukes and a huge military force. Why should WE pick up the bill? For example if Seoul was wiped off the map, shouldn’t you free market religionists think that some American businessman would step in and make all the cell phones and computer chips we need? It seems like you only believe in the free market under protection of the American military gun barrel, why don’t we believe that America is great without an action-movie military, but because we have some really smart people and we believe in hard work? We could spend military defense spending on peaceful R&D that would make us even more competitive on the global marketplace.

Yes obviously because they already exist, I am not talking about a fantasy land, I’m talking about what we could do right now, in reality.

So we could just make friends with the new big bully and pocket all the savings. I’m being facetious but I think you are too. We’re already crumbling from the weight of a non-sustainable military, so ramping it down is the only sane answer.

We have world wide commitments. Our nation relies, for it’s very existence, on trade. INTERNATIONAL trade. Cut off trade to this nation and the nation dies (along with gods know how many people). Who is going to protect our overseas interests?

What you are proposing is the opposite of sanity. Again, I don’t think you’ve really thought all of this through, and I don’t think you have a good grasp on what the military is actually for or what it ACTUALLY does…or how what it does protects not only our people and prosperity but, well, a large part of this planet thing we live on. We aren’t always the good guys, and we do stupid shit, no doubt about it, but overall, if you look at the trend in conflicts starting in the 19th and carrying through the early 20th century you see a distinctive shift when the US became, for all intents and purposes, the most powerful nation on the planet (the Soviets were as powerful militarily, but never even in the same universe as the US overall). Our overpowered military has been a big part of that peace, and continues to be to this day. Yeah, Der is going to disagree, as he sees only the evil of the US (or what he thinks is the evil), but the truth is we have lived under Pax Americana all our lives.

If you are young enough, you’ll probably live to see that change. I hope you and others who think like you do are right (or that someone else steps up for The West and fills our shoes militarily). I seriously doubt it though, and doubt many are going to enjoy how the world looks when instead of one nation that is so far beyond the others militarily that there is little point in confronting them (except in asymmetric conflicts, and even those don’t seem to be fairing all that well) becomes a bunch of regional powers doing a bunch of local arms races to either assert themselves regionally or try and keep up with others trying to do the same. I think it’s going to be ugly. YMMV of course.


Of course they could, if they had nukes and we didn’t. They could just do what we did to Japan; nuke a city every day or so until we surrender. They wouldn’t need any real assault capability; they could just charter ordinary ships to haul troops and equipment across, with threats of more nukes if they were interfered with. And more threats of nukes if we resist.

Yes, that’s part of our ego fantasies. We stomp around slaughtering thousands of people, and accomplish little or nothing in the process.

I don’t think there will be another big bully filling our shoes, but instead a bunch of little regional bullies…which will probably mean a lot of little (or not) regional conflicts. Conflicts in places that we’ll no longer be able to influence and will have no way to stifle or shut down…and where we might have interests. What if China decides to invade Taiwan? Great! you might say. But hold on…there are major trade routes through that region, and what if Taiwan doesn’t just roll over (I doubt they would). What then? Today, we move a carrier battle group in and, Bob’s your Uncle…no more conflict. When we can’t do that? Potentially a shooting war in a region that is vital to our overseas trade interests. Hope it’s over with quickly (and not TOO many people have to die and all) and doesn’t disrupt our vital trade for too long.

But even if there IS another ‘big bully’, who’s to say they would LET us join with them…or if it would be acceptable for us to join with them? What if China is the next ‘big bully’? And they decide to crush an insurrection in one of their northern provinces? Guess we play along because, well fuck, we don’t really have a choice, and we need SOMEONE to protect our vast overseas interests. Hope the Chinese want to do that…should be in their best interests to protect our trade and our interests, right? SHOULD be…hope that doesn’t change or anything. That would suck.