The American Interest

Time for Disengagment

“I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Newsweek on June 19.  “[F]rankly I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government . . . that’s being forced to dramatically [sic] scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”

In fact, U.S. defense expenditures over the past decade have grown by two thirds in real terms, to over $700 billion per year, war spending in Iraq and Afghanistan included.  If we add various off-the-books supplemental bills, the bottom line approaches a trillion—more than what the rest of the world spends on defense, and 50 percent more (in real terms) than this country’s average annual military expenditures during the Cold War.  America’s worldwide network of military-political alliances currently includes 60 countries and accounts for 80 percent of global military spending.  Some savings made by Gates affected the development of a few absurdly expensive weapons systems, such as the F-22 Raptor Stealthfighter, the Zumwalt-class destroyer, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle—none essential to making America safer.  By postponing or canceling these projects he merely reduced spending increases, but overall military spending will continue to grow.


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