Zamfir wrote:There is a kind of "local optima" hypothesis that might be true. Even if it isn't true, some thoughts like it might guide US high-level decisions making anyway.
In this hypothesis, the US has two bang-for-the-buck choices, but the area in between them is worse (seen from the US).The current one where most of the world tries to stay friends, or the US could alternatively spend very little on defense and still be essentially safe for its own citizens and its main territory. Even at extremely reduced military capacity, the US would dominate North and Middle America, the seas and oceans around it and probably be capable of heavy influence in South America. The US is very big and very unified, so as long as it keeps ticking no one is going to boss it around.
I am not sure there's much to gain from a position in between these two. At the moment, the US can deal on non-military terms with most of the world, because countries don't even consider a course of action that might put them in a direct war (however small) with the US. Saddam's invasion of Kuwait was an exception, and that seemed based on the honest miscalculation that the US liked him more than the religious nutters in Kuwait and Saudi-Arabia. A weaker US military might well find themselves with more challengers.
It's just a theory, but there is an argument that the current US is relatively cheap off because it doesn't have to fight wars, and a minimalist US could just avoid wars. But a US in between might have to face a constant barrage of Falkland wars or first gulf wars if it wants to keep its prominent position in world affairs. But of course, that calculus only works if they don't go and start pointless wars anyway.
That could very well be true, but even with a heavily reduced military (to make it simple, if unrealistic,- cut in half, evenly across all branches, equipment
and troop totals
) we would still have:
* 6 aircraft carriers- new world total would be 17, so slightly more than a third of all world aircraft carriers. And double that of any one nation. To add to this number, all 11 US carriers are "super" carriers, and are more than twice of the tonnage of all but one other aircraft carrier in service (the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov
). The French Charles De Gaulle
is the only other one in the world that is nuclear powered, as well. Each US carrier would still carry a larger aircraft complement than any two carriers in the world. Most foreign aircraft carriers are closer to the US' amphibious assault ships in actual capability.
* 35 nuclear submarines- more than anyone else, and excluding Russia, more than triple anyone else.
* 1,600 fighter aircraft- more than anyone except Russia.
* 3,200 combat helicopters- more than five times the nearest rival.
* 700,000 active duty soldiers, more than anyone besides China (already larger than us), India, Russia and North Korea.
Now, that's a rather lazy bit of number grabbing there on my behalf, and I won't deny that- the wikipedia page I used for equipment totals has a note at the top questioning it's full accuracy- but for simple illustrative purposes, I think it's sufficient. It would seem to me, based on that, that even with such a drastic military reduction (It should be about 2-3 times more of a reduction than even the $1 trillion cut would entail) we would still have a military capable of being completely dominant in the types of conflicts we have been fighting. In that case, we wouldn't be able to bring a war directly to Russia, China or India without an interim buildup, draft, alliance involvement or similar, but we would still be capable of actions such as the 1st Persian Gulf War. US force projection capabilities would still be completely unmatched.
I don't believe Persian Gulf or Falkland style wars would be much of a threat even with such a drastic cutback. The US would likely lose some capacity to bully countries about, and NATO would likely be less of an extension of the US, but I honestly doubt we have to worry about such a local maxima situation. Going forward, we might have to, if only due to (the potential result of) rising Chinese ambitions, but as things stand now, and in the immediate future, it doesn't seem like much of an issue to me.
I'm not saying there isn't some truth to what you're saying- we do gain various "perks" that are hard to quantify (at least, hard to do so as far as I know) by having a military as large as we do, and we might be in a min/max situation for military size, but I doubt we would lose any significant amount of our ability to influence global affairs along our primary concerns by going down a middle ground path. Especially since any reduction on this scale would likely induce some level of military build up in many of the US' traditional allies- Canada, the UK, Germany, Japan, etc., in order to compensate.