In the parlance of military planning, the U.S. wields what one would call a “two-MRC force.” That is to say, as structured, the armed forces should be able to fight two “major regional conflicts” (Iraq-sized wars), simultaneously. The logic behind this sizing is simple: should the U.S. choose to fight in one region (say, the Korean peninsula), it doesn’t want to find itself without a free hand in dealing with other regions (say, the Persian gulf). Two MRC’s worth of military might gives the U.S. the strength to conduct big stick diplomacy with troublemakers even while taking action against another rogue state.
The primary downside of a two-MRC military is cost. Over the next ten years, the Department of Defense (DoD) is expected to consume roughly $6 trillion dollars in resources, not counting costs associated with active conflicts, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. With a national debt about to break $14.5 trillion, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the drag that $600 billion of annual spending places on federal coffers.
Of course, a two-MRC force has a second, hidden downside — when given hammers, presidents tend to see a world of nails. The capacity to fight multiple conflicts unilaterally and simultaneously has predictably led to unilateral and simultaneous involvement in multiple conflicts. Two MRC’s worth of muscle have warped the mindset of U.S. foreign policy, creating additional costs (to date, Iraq and Afghanistan total more than $1.2 trillion in additional spending).
A smaller military would not just save money, but it might promote a healthier diplomacy between the United States and the world.
Suppose that the DoD’s funding was cut by 25 percent, and the U.S. military was re-organized into an outfit capable of fighting one and a half major regional conflicts. The direct benefits are easy enough — we’d knock $1.5 trillion off our deficits over the next ten years. More importantly, the mindset of Washington would change — rather than ask the question, “Who should we hit with our hammer?” the question on statesmen’s minds would be, “Where am I going to find the other half of my hammer?” Budget cuts would refocus American thinking onto the problem of alliance building.
A 1.5 MRC force gives the U.S. a scope of action very similar to a two MRC force, but it challenges the commander-in-chief to first reconstitute the missing half-army. Trouble in Venezuela? Better build a strong relationship with Brazil. Unrest in the Middle East? It’d sure be nice if we had Turkey on our side. Kim Jong-Il is acting up? Europe can project roughly 0.5 MRC’s worth of power internationally, we should make our case to them. A 1.5 MRC retains for the president an ability for emergency unilateral activity, but it encourages him to first subject his interventions to a litmus test. If European or regional allies cannot be convinced of the necessity of a war, then perhaps that war should not be fought — how can we say another nation is a threat to our security when its own neighbors don’t find it worthy of action? How can we claim an affront to our values as a cause for war, when those who share our values are unwilling to march alongside us?
It’s silly to suggest that cutting military spending would lead to a stronger military. But the point of a military is not to dress men and women in green uniforms; it’s to secure the safety and national interests of the United States. And to that end, a smaller military might actually perform better than a larger one.
ACTION: Cut baseline military spending by 25 percent. 10-YEAR SAVINGS: $1.5 T