Stephen Walt: “a large U.S. presence isn’t central to European security any longer”


From Stephen Walt, Foreign Policy:  In fact, if we were really serious about trying to close the deficits mentioned above, we’d be looking at cuts similar to the "peace dividend" that accompanied the end of the Cold War.   Measured in constant dollars, for example, the DoD budget fell 36 percent in constant dollars between 1985 and 1998, accompanied by comparable reductions in the active-duty force and the Pentagon’s civilian workforce.

So here’s my question: Would similar cuts today produce a dangerous shift in the structure of world politics and invite all sorts of nasty regional instability? I don’t think so. If the U.S. cut defense by 20-30 percent (an enormous reduction), it would still be devoting roughly $400 billion per year to keeping Americans safe.  Our national security spending would still be six times larger than China’s, ten times larger than Russia’s and a whopping forty times larger than Iran’s.  And because many militarily consequential powers are U.S. allies, its actual position is even better than those crude comparisons suggest. Thus, even seemingly draconian defense cuts would still leave the United States far stronger than any current rivals, especially if the reductions were done intelligently.

Moreover, if you look region-by-region, it’s not obvious that reductions of this magnitude would change things very much. It would have little or no effect on Europe, because a large U.S. presence isn’t central to European security any longer. There’s little danger of serious conflict in Europe these days (and certainly no potential threat that the European states can’t handle), and all that’s needed from the United States is a mostly symbolic presence to help hold NATO together and remind Europeans not to let security competition reignite on the continent. And please don’t try to tell me that Putin’s Russia poses a resurgent threat to the rest of Europe.  NATO Europe spends roughly $300 billion on defense each year compared to Russia’s $40 billion; if our European allies can’t handle Russia’s not-very-impressive military, then they don’t deserve U.S. help.  (photo: Allied Command Operations)

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