(Full disclosure: Sequestration has impacted me personally. This has undoubtedly influenced the opinions below.)
The spending cuts directed by sequestration originally called for 11 days of unpaid leave for most Department of Defense employees. More recently, the secretary of defense was able to reduce that to six, thanks to some accounting flexibility granted by Congress. I guess somebody in the Pentagon found a few billion in a sock drawer.
Sequestration is something nobody wanted, and it shows. It is a piecemeal, salami-slice approach that precludes any intelligent discussion of what those who serve in uniform are actually supposed to do. Worse still, it delays still further the eventual necessity of making hard choices in foreign policy.
According to the DoD’s website, if the Budget Control Act is not changed by Congress, the secretary of defense will have to find $52 billion in cuts for the upcoming fiscal year. I think I can help. We can save $150 billion by ending our military subsidy to Japan.
I picked Japan not because I have anything against it. Frankly, I’ve never even been there and know next to nothing about the country. I picked Japan because it’s our richest ally and therefore the one it makes the least sense to subsidize.
Depending on which list you believe, Japan has the third- or fourth-largest economy in the world, 1 percent of which is devoted to military spending. America’s fraction, by contrast, is four times higher. We account for almost 40 percent of the world’s military spending, more than the next 10 nations combined. Shouldn’t an economic powerhouse like Japan start pulling its own weight?
Arguments for the status quo are based in a Cold War mentality, or even a WWII one. In 1946, Japan was a conquered power that held clear hegemonic ambitions. Forbidding it to have an army for a decade or two made sense. Then in the heyday of the Cold War, an American-Japanese alliance was seen as a bulwark against Russian expansion in Asia. Now the Chinese are throwing their weight around, and American forward bases are supposed to be the first line of defense there.
But aren’t things just a little different now? Japan has rebuilt itself into an economic powerhouse. Don’t they have an incredibly strong interest in defending themselves against the Chinese? Aren’t there other nations that are likely candidates in that region that are also worried about Chinese influence? Wouldn’t an rearmed Japan ultimately be in America’s strategic interest, since it puts an economic juggernaut and historically antagonistic power on China’s eastern shore?
China is also America’s largest creditor nation, holding just over $1 trillion in U.S. Treasury securities. If the present justification for the America-Japan security arrangement is to be believed, we are borrowing money from China to pay for Japan to protect itself against China. That is, I respectfully submit, insane.
But like I said, I don’t mean to just pick on Japan. In light of the grim fiscal reality America faces, every military alliance needs to be re-examined. Every military alliance should be critically reviewed, rejustified and prioritized.
Only then can Americans make the hard decisions appropriate to a democratic republic where citizens are supposed to have a voice in foreign policy.
The United States of America is that most rare of nations: A safe Great Power. Surrounded by oceans on two sides and friendly countries on the north and south, we need not fear conquest, civil war, invading armies, siege, blockade or embargo. As horrifying as terrorist attacks are, compared to the indiscriminate slaughter of war, they are good problems to have. Rather than the willy-nilly salami slices of sequestration, a more realistic and informed perspective can help guide us to responsible military spending reductions.
Such reductions are more fitting for a republic with a military whose constitutionally enshrined purpose is to defend Americans, rather than lay them off.
Barry Fagin is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.