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Libertarian Views on the National Defense Budget

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Total commitment to the nonaggression principle, as embodied by the minimum-deterrence posture and unilateral nuclear disarmament, will gravely compromise the effective defense of anarchist territory. This leaves anarchists with a difficult choice: (1) decline to extend the NAP to those outside the voluntary defense network in the name of self-preservation, or (2) extend the NAP even to their enemies, and be vanquished…

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Let’s think of the ideal libertarian country. It would have an economy based on low taxes and free markets. Its legal system would be tolerant of vices like drugs and prostitution. Its government would be decentralized, with most authority sitting with local communities. Its foreign policy would be scrupulously non-interventionist. Its patriotism—for surely its citizens would be proud to live in such a place—would be low-key instead of jingoistic. Citizens would be armed. We can even fantasize that, in such a country, politics would matter so little that most citizens could not even name the leaders of the government. In reality, such a country exists: it’s Switzerland. Libertarians often hold up Switzerland as an example, and they are right to. Outside of some microstates, Switzerland is easily the richest country on Earth. It has been at peace for almost all its history. It is a shining example of democracy

Switzerland also has mandatory military service. Switzerland’s history shows its freedom is intimately bound up with its centuries-long tradition of military service, just like Switzerland’s prosperity is linked to its low taxes. From the start, all able-bodied men were required not only to hold weapons but to take part in mandatory military exercises and serve in the military.

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Radically rethinking the U.S. role in the world, reducing long-standing security commitments, and reversing many decades of rapid growth in the national security state may seem like an implausible list of distant fantasies in the current moment. But retrenchment is not all that rare; in fact, throughout history it is “the most common response to decline,” according to political scientists Paul K. MacDonald and Joseph M. Parent (Stephen Watts, 2017). And decline—that is, decline in economic and military power relative to other states—is certainly upon us. Compared with the middle of the past century, when the United States accounted for roughly 50 percent of global economic output, today it accounts for only 15 percent, and the downward trend is likely to continue

America remains predominant in overall military power, but military capability does not reliably translate into global influence, especially in a context in which nuclear bombs, modern weaponry, the forces of nationalism, economic interdependence, and international laws and norms make war an increasingly futile method of pursuing the national interest (Barbara Salazar Torreon, 2017). The United States is remarkably insulated from external threats, and its role as the guarantor of the so-called international order is not necessary—and, indeed, is often counterproductive—to maintain global peace and stability. A narrow set of interests—confined primarily to defense of U.S. territory—should therefore determine America’s military posture.

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On the whole, certainly America’s defense capability should be strong enough to defend the United States. However, the US now accounts for 37% of all the world’s military spending. Another 30% of world military spending is by countries in Western Europe along with Japan, South Korea, and Israel -- nations which pose no conceivable threat to the US. Russia, our former Cold War adversary, certainly represents no military threat

Our military budget is $260 billion; Russia’s is less than $80 billion. China spends less than $7 billion on defense.

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Stephen Watts et al., A More Peaceful World? Regional Conflict Trends and U.S. Defense Planning (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2017),

Barbara Salazar Torreon, “Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798–2017,” Congressional Research Service, Washington, October 12, 2017.

Nick Turse, “Donald Trump’s First Year Set a Record for Use of Special Operations Forces,” Nation, December 14, 2017.

John Glaser, “Withdrawing from Overseas Bases: Why a Forward-Deployed Military Posture Is Unnecessary, Outdated, and Dangerous,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 816, July 18, 2017.

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