Implications for "Defense"

The national security establishment has barely begun to register the severity of the financial crisis and what it may mean for American foreign and defense policy. The crisis has utterly disordered national finances. It will produce further cascading demands on the public treasury. Given these factors, the constraints on policy are going to be much more exacting than the national security establishment now believes. Defense will not prove to be “recession proof.”

Defining a coherent philosophy in foreign affairs and defense strategy that is respectful of limits is vital. Especially deserving of reconsideration are the grand plans to reorder the Middle East and Central Asia via military power, to make all the world democratic, to expand NATO to embrace Georgia and Ukraine, to threaten or undertake preventive war against suspected proliferators, and to bring the entire world under intimate surveillance. We could save a lot of money if we stopped trying to do what we’re not very good at doing anyway.

The defense establishment is like a huge ship that is difficult to turn and next to impossible to stop in its tracks. But serious savings could be had by reducing force structure and limiting modernization. The most important step is to repudiate the Bush Doctrine and to rivet US military power to defensive purposes. The ground forces, slated to expand, should be reduced.

Obama is seemingly not ready to do any of this. Biden is more hawkish than dovish and will reinforce the tendency toward business as usual. But stark financial constraints and the accompanying search for limits on external ambition will define Obama’s presidency; he needs to realize that sooner rather than later.

First posted: 11/02/08