The Best Defense

Governments everywhere spend lots and lots of money on something they refer to as “defense.”

The US government in particular shells out more each year than the next 20 largest governments combined on “defense,” which accounts for the bulk of its “discretionary” spending — about 4% of Gross Domestic Product. Yup — for every $25,000 you earn, you’re expected to toss $1,000 in the “defense” kitty.

Contra Republican complaints of “defense” cuts by the Obama administration, President Obama’s budget proposal calls for a $21 billion increase (to $534 billion) in US “defense” spending in 2010 … $6.7 billion more than the Bush administration had projected.

This “defense” spending doesn’t include the costs of actual ongoing military operations, by the way — those are covered by “emergency supplemental” requests. For the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, that extra “defense” spending has so far come to about $1 trillion, and Obama promises to ask for another $130 billion in 2010.

US “defense” spending is effectively at least 25% larger than budget numbers indicate, and probably larger than that. Gore Vidal once estimated that when additional, hidden “defense” spending is traced to other parts of the budget, it ends up constituting 90% of the US government’s discretionary spending.

Two things you get when your government spends so much on “defense” are more enemies and more wars.

Politicians are loath to just leave a military establishment as large and expensive as that maintained by the United States lying around — soldiers in domestic barracks, ships in domestic ports. They want to use it, if for no other reason than to provide a continuing justification for its existence. Theodore Roosevelt’s “big stick” isn’t something politicians can bring themselves to carry at their sides while speaking softly … rather, they’re constantly tempted to wave it around while yelling at the tops of their lungs.

The US “defense” establishment maintains bases in more than 100 countries around the world, enabling American politicians to tinker in those countries’ (and their neighbors’) internal affairs. Its Carrier Battle Groups patrol the world’s major waterways, available for instant placement at chokepoints and off coasts in order to exert yet more international influence.

While the ability to project force over the horizon is a valid object of actual defensive preparations, the US government’s version of it in no way constitutes “defense.” Rather, it constitutes international meddling from a posture of threatened offense if American politicians don’t get their way.

Needless to say, this doesn’t always sit well with the objects of the US government’s meddlesome intents. The more common reaction is outrage, often accompanied by violent expression of same. At which point our “leaders” — more in sorrow than anger, of course! — invoke the “necessity” of war for America’s “defense.”

And, of course, there are other states inclined to compete with the US for “superpower” status which will, they hope, allow their politicians to dictate terms to all and sundry on affairs which may or may not be, strictly speaking, any of their damn business.

What do your “defense” dollars buy?

They buy a standing army available for use by politicians to pursue politicians’ goals.

They buy an active navy available to spread politicians’ malign influence far beyond the water’s edge.

They buy a nuclear arsenal with which politicians hold you hostage to “Mutual Assured Destruction” — your life being a price they’re willing to pay in pursuit of their dreams of control.

If those “defense” dollars buy you any actual defense at all, it’s merely a defense against rule by other gangs of politicians, gangs for all practical purposes interchangeable with the gang you’ve got. And such a defense, even if you cared to have it, would still be outrageously expensive at half the price.

An effective defense against standing armies serving other gangs of politicians is as simple as “a gun and ammo in every house, and a couple of days at the range each year to get, and stay, competent.” Of course, your gang of politicians quails from that, since it constitutes a potential defense against them as well.

While defensive seapower is a bit more complicated, it’s been handled by market entities — “privateers,” for example — in the past, and could be again. And there’s no particular reason why private enterprise couldn’t handle nuclear deterrent functions as well.

What do you get for your “defense” dollars? A lot of stuff you don’t need or could get more cheaply elsewhere. A lot of other stuff which makes you more, not less, vulnerable to attack.

War is the health of the state. The best way to oppose either is to oppose both.

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