Does Europe Need US Defense Spending?

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28 Responses

  1. A few points: 1) While I’d certainly support cutting $159 billion out of the defense budget (as well as retrenching from our will-nilly defense commitments across the globe), I totally disagree with the notion that “returning 90% of that money to taxpayers” while using the remaining 10% “savings” to pay down the national debt is something a true conservative would support.

    Earth to author – even if the entire $159 billion was returned directly to the federal treasury of this budget year we’d still be looking at yet another huge yearly budget deficit.

    “Giving me back my money” isn’t an option as long as we’re running deficits and accruing debt!

    What the author is in fact calling for would be for the U.S. to still borrow $159 billion from China, et. al., and instead of using it to purchase goods or services or pay down the debt the author would use it to send checks to taxpayers… which we taxpayers would ourselves be paying for not just in the for of the original borrowing, but in future interest payments!

    Jeezus…! That’s NOT “conservatism” in any shape, nature, or form.

    Point 2) Who exactly are we “defending” Europe against…???

    You know what… the ONLY reason to keep NATO in place is to keep France and Germany (and the rest of Europe) tied to us in the sense that none of them develop delusions of grandeur and consider strengthening their militaries as tools of independent foreign policy.

    God help this once great nation when even “conservatives” writing in National Review don’t “get” fundamentals.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to William R. Barker says:

      @William R. Barker, on the level of pragmatism and pragmatism only:

      We do not have a choice between slashing the defense budget by $159B and a 90/10 split and slashing the defense budget by $159B and all of that money paying down the deficit.

      Our choice is between slashing the defense budget by $159B and a 90/10 split and slashing the defense budget by $159B and the status quo.

      Given the choice we realistically have, I would prefer cutting the defense budget.

      Unlike with HCR, the status quo is the worse of the two options.Report

  2. @Jaybird,

    Why…??? Why don’t we have that choice?

    The answer is of course that the politicians won’t allow such a choice to be made.

    Not to be argumentative, but if we’re to only discuss “pragmatic” choices then let’s get one thing clear: There’s NOT going to be any $159 billion cut in defense appropriations.


    (You’d agree… right…?)

    No. To reiterate… to get to the heart of my point… every cent we borrow and add to the national debt is an outrage and another nail in our national coffin.

    Creating more debt still… er… creates more debt – regardless of whether the debt is spent on bullets or sent out as taxpayer “rebates.”

    No offense, but the sort of “compromise” being proposed as “better than nothing” is in my mind NOT better than nothing.

    I’m sure you no more want to belabor these points than I do. Feel free to have the last word. Hopefully my position is clear. In a nutshell… I don’t want to borrow the $159 billion in the first place.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to William R. Barker says:

      @William R. Barker, let’s see it as a starting place, then!

      The issue is that HR 5353 *EXISTS*. It is on the table! This is something that with the support of half of the Republicans *COULD* pass!

      I mean, yes. Instead of that bill, we could imagine a half dozen better ones. Sure. You and I see eye to eye on that.

      The problem is that we don’t have those bills. We have this one.

      And the choice is between almost 16B not being spent and the status quo.

      I’ll take the former. In a heartbeat.Report

  3. I hope that my original piece didn’t come off as being too harsh. (Nowhere, for example, does E.D. accuse Europeans of beings surrender monkeys. I was talking about unnamed others, which I again hope was clear.) I highly recommend Erik’s piece, and I can’t say I sympathize with those who want to reject his broad points.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Matthew Schmitz says:

      @Matthew Schmitz, it’s certainly thought provoking (for example, I had no idea that non-US NATO spending was so high!).

      Now I find myself wondering… what in the heck are they spending it on?Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird says:


        Spiderman comic books for all the troops. It is what I would do.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

          @ThatPirateGuy, I know that only a handful of non-NATO countries are nuclear powers… I wonder if, say, GB, Germany, and Poland aren’t the majority of the spending or if Denmark/Canada/Czech Republic has as much as the big guys…Report

          • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:


            The top graph splits it out – it’s France and UK on top, Germany(!) (and non-Nato Japan(!)) spending about 2/3 as much apiece as these guys, and everyone else spending 1/2 to 1/4 or less than Fra/UK

            (also, as an aside Nuke forces are expensive in absolute terms, but are ‘cheap’ in relative terms. Rather, one nuke is expensive, but a bunch more is not all that much more. Sort of like a bulk discount. The US spends a little over 50 billion on nuke forces, which is yes a lot of frickin money, but in the context of a 700 billion budget isn’t as substantial)Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

              @Kolohe, yeah, I saw that the second I clicked “submit” and felt dumb.

              I wonder if that doesn’t make the statement about free riders still true… they’re just riding on the backs of the UK, Germany, and the like and not just riding at the expense of the US…Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, Well the bigger question would be what the heck they need more spending for? It’s not like Russia wants to roll their tanks into West Berlin or something. China would implode if the west cut off its’ trade and after China and Russia the only hostile peoples nearby have schloric 1940’s era militaries or rocks and sticks.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:


        While there’s a good chunk of it in expensive gadgets, there would still be an asymetry even without those because the labor pool NATO draws on is a hell of lot more expensive than China’s (for instance). (and these higher labor costs also of course contribute to making those shiny toys more expensive in the West.)

        (this is also not to say we probably couldn’t take an axe to the US DoD budget and get it down from 700+ billion to say the 2005 level of around 500 billion, esp w Iraq winding down)Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

          @Kolohe, excellent point.

          If we went back to spending levels for X years ago, we have no deficit. If we went back to spending levels for Y years ago, we have one heck of a surplus!

          What surprises me about X and Y is that they usually have single digits.Report

          • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to Jaybird says:


            Do you know the percentage of our deficit that is due to the sudden drop-off in tax revenues occasioned by the great recession? Or do you have a recommended source for figuring it out?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

              @ThatPirateGuy, I don’t… but I also know that X and Y were single digits under Dubya. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that 2004 levels of spending even in the great recession would leave us above water.

              Som quick googling tells me that revenues for 2009 were $2.1T and 2008 were $2.5T… 2007 was $2.55T, 2006 had $2.4T.

              So the difference between the great recession and the height of the bubble (2009 vs. 2006) would be half a Trillion bucks. Nothing to sneeze at. (Double-check my numbers here: )

              Having more trouble finding expenditure numbers… but seeing that revenues are down, what? 15%? We’re probably going to have to go back to pre-Iraq years to see decent numbers.

              Dang, Bush did a lot of damage…

              See that, Koz?Report

            • Avatar North in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:

              @ThatPirateGuy, Jaybird, you clearly aren’t getting Koz’s point. How many times does he have to tell you that the “GOP is the last best hope for liberty and fiscal stability for the US” before you get the message? If you press him on it he might repeat himself slowly for you even.Report

            • Avatar ThatPirateGuy in reply to ThatPirateGuy says:


              If he does it extra slow and extra loud I think I could get it with only 29 more repetitions. But I am pretty thick so it might be take more.Report

      • Avatar Simon K in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, NATO countries generally have specialities they’ve developed as part of the alliance. This is part of the system that’s meant to ensure integrated NATO forces and be deployed without having to integrate each individual tiny logistics department, sapper team, etc. For example the Belgians specialize in logistics, which is why a surprising number of logistics managers in American firms are Belgian. The US obviously “specialises” if that’s the word in providing the actual teeth. For the countries that don’t maintain a large, independently deployable forces, that’s where most of their spending goes. Only Britain and France really have forces they can deploy independent of NATO – “European Defence Integration” consists essentially of using British or French forces in place of American forces within the NATO structure.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Simon K says:

          @Simon K, that makes a hell of a lot of sense… though it strikes me as putting way too much trust in the treaty to not have a significant number of folks dedicated to killing people who want to kill you.

          Treaties are waaaay too easily jettisoned.Report

          • Avatar Simon K in reply to Jaybird says:

            @Jaybird, Absolutely, for France or Britain or the US, but the dynamics a different for the small European countries. They were always defenceless if attacked by one of their big neighbours, existing really only because those neighbours couldn’t agree how to carve them up or because they were too much hassle to conquer. From their point of view having some commitment from said neighbours to defend them is a step forward. Germany obviously is a special case, having basically demilitarised itself. Spain is interesting – historically and currently they were rich enough to wield a decent sized army, but I guess at the time when they entered NATO they were .. umm … going through a bad patch.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to Jaybird says:

        @Jaybird, Reasonably large armies intended for local use. ISTR that in the 1980’s the W. German Army was very large (esp. in proportion to the population of W. Germany). However, it had ~0 force projection ability, since that wasn’t neccessary.Report

        • Avatar Simon K in reply to Barry says:

          @Barry, Depends on the country. W Germany had (still has) large local conventional forces, initially to defend against invasion from the Soviet bloc. Their “job” in NATO’s defence plan was to hold a soviet land invasion, alongside US forces, for long enough for the obvious and inevitable response to take place.Report

    • @Matthew Schmitz, Not at all, Matt. I have to chew over your piece a while longer (time permitting) to come up with a more in-depth response. And only the French are surrender monkeys…. heh…Report

  4. Avatar Grant H says:

    Hmm – maybe spending a little of the savings on delivery of effective audits of all Government departments would go a longer way to resolving the deficit.

    The Big 4 complain that they need Sarbanes Oxley to “keep our staff busy” (oops they dont say that, they say it is to protect the innocent – but all audit and legal costs incurred within an organization for compliance are just another form of taxation/business tax to give the illusion of a protective insurance product to consumers; legislation just makes it an embedded cost).

    Why not have these budding clear eyed and bushy tailed enthusiasts for their professions aka audit clerks serve a pro bono to the country at large and have them enter the Government departments and actually bring them into the 20th Century (21st is a little too optimistic).

    We might find a whole new appreciation of the difficulty incurred in implementing legislation that runs 000’s of pages; and a new found appreciation of how far a tax dollar really could go ….

    and maybe some of these bright clear morally clean enthusiasts might be inspired to actually help run/work in government?Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Grant H says:

      @Grant H,

      > Hmm – maybe spending a little of the
      > savings on delivery of effective audits
      > of all Government departments would
      > go a longer way to resolving the deficit.

      Probably not. As you point out in the next paragraph, SOX is more of a net burden than a benefit. Establishing that level of audit on government processes would be a huge waste.

      Everybody loves audit, but never forget that as a base function, it’s pissing money into a hole; the worst sort of non-constructive overhead. It only should represent a big enough burden to provide a suitable negative incentive for tomfoolery.

      Note, of course, that anyone actually following federal guidelines for grant expenditures is very nearly stressed out to the point of absolute insanity (he says, from experience), attempting to comply with auditory requirements should they actually ever *be* audited.

      The amount of work generated by properly executing an NSF grant is decidedly non-trivial, and significantly impacts your ability to spend with fiscal responsibility.Report

  5. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    Someone needs to re-run this analysis and link it to the arms exports rates of those countries.

    France exports nearly half of what the US does in total dollar value (about a third of Russia). The UK isn’t terribly far behind.

    I imagine you’d find a pretty strong correlation between defense spending rates and arms exports in total dollar value.Report

  6. Avatar Rob says:

    The US should slowly pull back from defending nations and place them in greater risk so they do more to defend themselves. It’d be cheaper for us to maintain tech and force projection supremacy to simply retake lost territory.

    One of the biggest mistakes the US made was protecting Europe from the USSR so well. Basically our forces should have been centered around containing the USSR and pushing them back after they expended themselves burning down Europe, not preventing them from burning down Europe in the first place, those who lived in Europe should have worried about stopping the Russians from burning down Europe and spent themselves into a massive debt heap on defense instead of a massive debt heap on 32 hour work weeks and month long mandatory vacations ect ect..

    Ultimately no nation is an ally unless they are an ally at the moment, and no one will remember, or care what happened 10 years ago, much less 60, so fostering good will by defending anyone is a waste of US blood and treasure. Once the barbarians kick their doors in, they’ll be our friend even if we didn’t do anything to help them at all up to that point.Report