The U.S. Army is on track to reduce its size from current levels (490,000 troops) to 450,000 in 2017 and 420,000 by 2019. In a July 24 editorial, the New York Times came out in mild support of the half-measure and against "maintaining bases and a level of troops that go beyond what the country needs and can afford."
The Times doesn't go far enough. The cuts are, at best, a good start. By any reasonable "need and affordability" standard, military (euphemistically referred to as "defense") spending cuts should go far deeper. A worthwhile goal would be to cut US military spending by 75 percent between now and 2025.
If those cuts seem unduly deep, keep in mind that military spending is the single largest item in the federal budget, and that the US has now shouldered the burden of defending western Europe and the Pacific Rim since the end of World War II.
We've been waiting for our promised "peace dividend" for nearly a quarter of a century since the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. It's time to furl the US "defense umbrella" and let Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and other US clients assume responsibility for (and cover the costs of) their own defenses.
Through the first half of this decade, the partisan fight over military spending has devolved from an argument over how much to increase that spending (the Obama administration proposed 10 percent growth by 2018; congressional Republicans referred to that proposal as a "draconian cut" and demanded 18 percent growth) to acceptance of actual minor cuts. It's time to take the next step.
A 75 percent reduction would still leave the United States in the position of, by far, top military spender in the world (the cut would have to be more like 90 percent to match China, the second place spender). Given the American weapons technology edge, an existing arsenal that can be mothballed and re-activated at need, a reserve and National Guard system which can deliver well-trained troops on relatively short notice, and a buffer zone of two oceans between the US and its most likely future enemies, 25 percent of current spending levels would remain an embarrassment of riches.
Politicians of both parties perpetually promise balanced budgets — some day. They'll never get there without first reining in a military-industrial complex which has sucked America's economy dry for three quarters of a century now.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).