The United States military budget, just taking into account figures going back to 2002 (before the Iraq War), made up 45% of the entire WORLD'S military expenditures. Represented in cartographic form (mapped according to the proportion of military spending per nation) our world looks something like this:
© Copyright 2009 SASI Group (University of Sheffield)
In other words, our taxes (which conservatives are always so keen on lowering) largely go towards supporting nearly one-half of all the money spent worldwide on military expenditures (and with the Iraq War figures not being accounted for in this, perhaps much more). A good deal of this is spent on stuff that simply gets destroyed (and a good deal of that is NOT destroyed in acts of war, but in training exercises).
A huge portion of that money goes to supporting around 4700 military bases and installations both domestically and on foreign soil (see page 11 of the PDF in the link... and that was just 2004, prior to huge budget increases, and does not include secret sites).
Combine that last with the fact that the reasoning for keeping most of these military bases, as well as the hardware and personnel required to keep them operational, are based on projecting power for a now non-existent Cold War; some are even running on inertia left over from WWII.
So three questions based on the following postulate: if America makes up 4.5% of the world's population, occupies 2% of the world's landmass, is running neck and neck with China and the EU as one of the world's premier economic powers, and is still the undisputed superpower in military technology and delivery capabilities, then:
1. WHY DO WE NEED EVEN 10% OF THE BASES OUT THERE? Can't America "project its power" with 80 foreign bases, if we represent such a military superiority while at the same time having such a small population and proportion of land? We have already demonstrated that we can move personnel and hardware around the world in a matter of hours using only a handful of major bases; what is the purpose for the rest of them?
2. WHY DO AMERICANS FEEL THE NEED TO BE THE "WORLD'S POLICEMAN"? This did not exist until Pearl Harbor, except in our own "back yard" with Central and South America vis–à–vis the Monroe Doctrine. Could it be that we are so anxious and afraid of being attacked again (as in Pearl, and as in 9/11) that we feel the need to be the biggest, toughest “bully on the playground”, or is there something less archetypal and more rational about it? Could it instead be something as simple as a desire to protect our markets by planting military bases right on top of strategic resources?
3. IF CHINA AND THE EU ARE RAPIDLY EQUALING OR EXCEEDING OUR ECONOMIC POWER, SHOULDN'T WE LET THEM SHOULDER MORE OF THE BURDEN OF PROVIDING MILITARY SUPPORT IN TROUBLED REGIONS OF THE WORLD? If we accept the obvious (though morally dubious) fact that a semi-capitalistic country such as ours uses its military to protect its markets, but we are now a global marketplace as the "Friedman Flat-Earthers" like to promote, then would it not make sense for every nation with a stake in globalization also do their part to provide security for trouble spots around the globe?
The next time you have a conversation with a conservative who thinks globalization is a wonderful thing and advocates a strong military, and who blanches at the thought of cutting military spending (while touting our need to cut social programs as "unsustainable"), perhaps you could ask them to answer these three questions. While I am sure there are some rational arguments they could present to support our present military budget, I have a feeling that most other arguments will simply devolve into circular logic.
In my view, since we have dramatically reduced the chances of worldwide nuclear annihilation with the end of the Cold War over 20 years ago, and the chances of an old-style "invasion" of our country are virtually nil, then our military is no longer primarily protecting American SOIL: they are protecting the American ECONOMY. While this fundamental shift in our military's purpose is important in many ways, it came without a fundamental shift in overall mentality from the top to the bottom. We have a military that is still structured as though we are going to, any day now, fight yesterday's war. And that leaves it enormously bloated.
Now think about the logic of this huge military budget that is now primarily tasked with protecting our economic well-being around the world: we are spending trillions of dollars over many decades to protect our ability to generate trillions of dollars in a global economy that we ourselves created.
Isn't that kind of like hiring a full security team costing $50,000 per month to protect your corner store that produces $100,000 per month, when you could do just as well with an electronic security system (cameras, alarms, etc.) that has a one-time cost of $10,000 and perhaps one security guard costing $3,000 per month? Imagine what your store could do with that extra money. Why, you might think of investing it in growing your business!
Imagine what we could do in our own country and around the world if we restructured our military to meet the needs of the present and future instead of the past. What would you do differently in America with, say, an extra $300-$500 billion per year? Universal healthcare? Fully-funded education through college? Pay off the national debt and re-invest that interest money into domestic needs? Invest in infrastructure improvements and sustainable transportation? Pour money into researching ways to wean ourselves off of foreign oil and gas? Colonize the Moon and Mars and leave the cradle of Earth before an asteroid comes and wipes us all out?
Imagine a future where the greatest desires of both liberals and conservatives are met: a future in which our grandchildren are not paying off a huge debt burden left behind by previous generations, are able to drink safe and clean water and food, where taxes are lower but are still able to fund great social programs to meet the needs of the people, and peace in the world is possible because America is no longer seen as the "bully on the playground" but is instead a co-partner with the rest of the world. It won't be Utopia, and there will still be vast areas of improvement necessary in areas like income inequality and poverty, cleaning up the mess left from advancing climate change, and much more. But at least for America, NONE of this will be possible unless we cut back on spending.
And we have a choice: do we cut back on already-inadequate social safety nets upon which millions depend, or do we cut back on a bloated, inefficient, and antiquated military superstructure and redesign it for our modern age? And why do I even have to ask this question?