So David Cameron wants Barack Obama to know that Britain is still America’s “wingman,” as he put it. The reassurance was necessitated by Cameron’s announcement that the United Kingdom will be cutting its military budget by about 8 percent — a steep but endurable reduction in defense outlays.
Among the items lost to the budgeteers’ scalpel: MHS Ark Royal, the flagship of the Royal Navy, and the fleet of Harriers attached to it. The new, downsized British military would not be able to carry off its current supporting role in Iraq.
Some wingman: one who reduces his beer budget by 8 percent but assures you he’ll still be available to go out on the weekends — just so long as you buy an extra round. It is frustrating, to be sure, but we Americans really have no one to blame but ourselves: With our monster military budget, it is only natural that the nations residing safe (if occasionally resentful — we’re lookin’ at you, Canada) under our abundantly fortified security umbrella should choose military spending as the first target of opportunity when it comes to budget reductions. There are upsides to America’s overgrown national-security apparatus, to be sure, but the downsides, in addition to the walloping direct expense of the thing, is the indirect expense: Our over-large military is a shadow subsidy for the over-large welfare states of Europe, Canada, and our other allies around the world, including their protectionist corporate-welfare measures. American military protection helps to make South Korea, Germany, and Japan more effective global competitors — and also forces the United States to carry most of the political baggage for looking out after the West’s security interests around the world.
Why do we do this? Mostly because we regret what happened the last time we left the Europeans in charge of anything more consequential than Nokia.
Hypothetical: What happens if Atlas shrugs off his global military commitments? What if the United States decides that we’ve got Hitler and Stalin whipped and do not need all those troops in Germany? What if we decide that it’s too expensive to send American soldiers to do sentry duty just as easily performed by landmines in South Korea? (Seriously, I doubt the Norks could afford to buy enough diesel to get their army to the DMZ, much less to invade a civilized country like the Republic of Korea.) What if we take the Okinawans at their word that they want us out, and we get the hell out?
I do not pretend to be ready to analyze the military implications of a general (if minor) retrenchment of the global military presence of the United States. But it seems to me that it would carry with it some distinct political benefits — and save us a hell of a lot of money. If we followed Britain’s lead and reduced military spending by 8 percent, that’s $67 billion a year off the deficit, or . . . 4.7 percent off of the 2011 deficit, estimated to hit $1.4 trillion.
Okay, so tell your peacenik friends: Pentagon cuts won’t balance the budget. In fact, our deficit currently is running at about twice the size of the entire national-security budget. Trimming the military will do the Brits’ balance sheet a world of good — and will cost them very little other than a piece of their already diminished national self-respect — so why not? But it is going to take more radical moves to bring the American fiscal house into order.
– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.