Making the case for higher U.S. defense spending, AEI’s Dan Blumenthal and Michael Mazza rehash an old Cold War scare story:
While Washington debates how to cut America’s military, China continues to spend generously on defense. Last year, the Obama administration took the first steps in a $400 billion defense spending cut, ending several crucial programs. The White House has now asked for another $400 billion in cuts. China, meanwhile, has averaged 10% annual spending increases for more than 20 years. As former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown once said of the Soviets, “When we build, they build; when we cut, they build.”
It is definitely true that China, which spends less on defense in absolute ($687 billion vs $114 billion) and relative to GDP (4.7 percent vs 2.2 percent) terms, but is also growing much more rapidly has been slowly but surely acting to close the defense spending gap with the United States. That said, attempting to match China’s rate of increase will simply drain the United States of productive resources and hasten the moment when China reaches economic parity with the United States. Indeed, Blumenthal and Mazza appear to have forgotten the part of the story where the underlying Soviet economic model proved unworkable and Communist collapsed without anyone firing a shot. But that’s an important part of the story! Clearly, throughout the Cold War, we needed a military sufficient to deter possible Soviet aggression. But beyond that we needed exactly what we would have needed if the USSR had never existed in the first place — economic growth and high living standards.
Ironically, Brown said that in 1979 shortly before the USSR embarked on a massively expensive war in Afghanistan that further strained its economy. If we want to worry about China, we ought to worry that we’re the USSR in this story. They’re investing funds in state of the art transportation infrastructure while we’re engaged in…an expensive war in Afghanistan.