A little while back Robin Hanson proposed cutting military spending in half. Because of his writings on Iraq, Iran and the U.S military I commented that I would like to hear what Greg Cochran had to say on the issue. Well, ask and you shall receive. Here is an e-mail he sent me:

I look at this more from the ground up than Hanson does: I have no idea what useful purpose most of our military establishment serves. TheWar on Terror is mostly just bullshit: jihadism isn’t exactly a serious strategic threat. I doubt if it’s as dangerous to the country as carbon monoxide poisoning. I can’t see any strategic payoff from Iraq or Afghanistan that’s worth anything like what we’re paying, so I’d quit: we’d save almost two hundred billion a year right there. I wouldn’t expand the Army – if anything I’d shrink it, since our politicians are clearly likely to use it in ways that hurt US interests.
The Navy is far bigger and more powerful than all other navies combined: it was designed to face a Soviet Navy that no longer exists. We’ve cut back from that peak, but probably not enough: we still have over 50 nuclear hunter-killer subs, and what are they for, really? No one can tell you. I _like_ nuclear subs – they’re really cool, and they play a key part in a novel I’m supposed to deliver real soon now – but is that enough reason to keep them around? That many?

I seem to recall someone talking about the economic advantages of our hegemony, like deterring pirates. Well, worldwide crushing of piracy takes about five destroyers. As for the other benefits – as far as I can tell, there aren’t any. Other countries sow and reap without us forcing them to: Arabs will sell oil unless they want to be poor. There used to be some powerful commercial spinoffs from defense research, but that doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. Partly because there simply is less research than there was, more because civilian and military tech have diverged. Once upon a time, the Air Force decided that aerial refueling was the way to go (correctly) and ordered the KC-135: tear out the fuel tank, put in seats, and Boeing had the 707. Military orders (for Minuteman guidance systems) had a lot do with getting integrated circuits going back in the 1960s – but I can’t think of anything really useful along those lines since the end of the Cold War. The last one was probably GPS.

I’d keep the nuclear deterrent: it doesn’t cost much and it keeps the other nuclear powers from getting frisky. And it deters weaker countries.

Looking ahead, the only real strategic threat I see coming is China, when and if they decide to play that kind of game seriously.

Most of that makes sense to me. I would propose is closing down all the bases around the world that were supposed to contain the Red Menace during the Cold War. Boots on the ground can be kept on our own ground unless they really need to be elsewhere. We no longer have the “China lobby” yammering about “unleashing Chiang” and Mao has been replaced by much saner rulers, so I’d drop our commitment to defending Taiwan. They along with Japan (who should go ahead and amend their constitution to explicitly permit a normal military) and South Korea can be left to deal with those issues without our help. I think China is more likely to have the ability to threaten us, but I doubt they will have the inclination. Closer to home is latin america, where we often lend a hand to governments in the War on Drugs. I’d drop that war along with Iraq, which would help to neutralize FARC and the Zetas that so thoroughly destabilize things. I think of Iran now as being something like China in the 70s. We can live with them having nukes and would seem to be natural allies against the largely Sunni and frequently anti-Shiite jihadists in their neighboring countries that we have invaded. All we need is a Nixon to try to pull that off rather than banging on the table for another war. Regarding the current dysfunction in Pakistan, I don’t have any suggestions. I’m more worried about crazies there getting hold of nukes than Iran.

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