Friday, December 4, 2009

More butter = less guns

It's a simple concept, really. The more we spend domestically on entitlements and social concerns ("butter") the less we can spend on defense ("guns").

I hear a lot about how successful the health care regimes in Western Europe and Canada are. Leave out the rising tide of red ink those countries are increasingly swimming in due to their massive welfare states. A major reason why they can devote that kind of money to health care is that they don't spend much on their militaries.

To date, Europe has been able to get away with this kind of irresponsibility because America foolishly took up the mantle of world policeman 60 years ago. Given the massive entitlement spending of the current and former American Presidents, however, the days of Europe's free lunch are rapidly drawing to a close.
Among the Western Europeans, only France and the U.K. spend more than 2% of GDP on defense, supposedly the NATO-mandated minimum. Nearly everyone else is below that. Germany, the continent's largest economy, stands at 1.3%. U.S. defense spending has been above 4% of GDP since 2004, having fallen to 3% after the Cold War ended. ...

Most European countries also commit more than half of what little they do spend on defense to soldier salaries and benefits. Equipment and training are shortchanged. Belgium devotes 74% to personnel; the U.S. 30.6%. Europeans lack cargo planes and helicopters to enable troops to get to, and move within, far-off conflict zones. In 2007, the U.S. deployed 14% of its troops in overseas operations, Europe 4%.

Such relative strategic weakness has made the Europeans more dependent on the American security umbrella, even as they resent it. But it also makes Europeans more disposed to avoid confrontation with adversaries like Saddam Hussein or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As Henry Kissinger has put it, European leaders are no longer able to ask their people to make major sacrifices. ...

The tragic irony of this year is that Democrats are rushing the U.S. down this same primrose entitlement path. ...

Add the stimulus, ObamaCare, a new entitlement for college and other Democratic plans, and the defense squeeze will only tighten. Higher taxes and borrowing may allow guns and butter to co-exist for a while. But over time, the welfare state will defeat the Pentagon here, as it has in Europe.

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