Bean-counting won’t do the job. For meaningful savings, we must begin by changing our grand strategy, which presently defines virtually everything that happens in the world as an American interest. Against the Founders’ advice, we are not only playing the great power game, we are attempting to be the globe’s dominant power.
In consequence, America does not today have a defense budget. It has an empire budget—perhaps the Tea Party should call it that. Derailing the neocons’ (and neolibs’) imperial ambitions and returning to the defensive grand strategy America followed through most of her history would save not tens but hundreds of billions of dollars.
We would no longer need a 3:1 “rotation base” for forward-deployed forces because we would no longer have forward-deployed forces. More important, we would have fewer enemies because we would not be inserting our nose into everyone else’s quarrels. That is true national security: reducing the threat by not posing a threat.
A second large tranche of savings would come from designing and equipping our forces for tomorrow’s wars—those that are forced upon us—not yesterday’s. Almost all the ships, planes, and weapons we are buying are designed for conflicts against other states. They are useless or worse for Fourth Generation wars against non-state opponents. Why do we need the F-22 and F-35 fighter aircraft? To shoot down Taliban flying carpets.
Canceling the programs—not just reducing the buys—would save tens of billions now and later. (The more complex the system, the higher its maintenance costs.)
The Pentagon will howl, “How can you be certain we won’t fight other states?” It will furiously puff the dragon—the “Chinese threat.”
The answer, again, is strategic. We refuse to plan for wars against other states, including China, because the real winners are likely to be the 21st century’s main danger, nonstate elements. The defeated state in a war between nations is likely to collapse, like Iraq, creating a Petri dish for nonstate entities. If the price of victory is too high, the winner may go the same route. Our strategic preference, in a time when the main division will be between centers of order and centers of disorder, should be for strong, orderly states, including China.