Friday, April 27, 2007

US allies: free riders

Is a high defense budget in US interests? National defense spending has reached about $500 billion per year, representing about one half of world military spending. This policy has allowed the US to build up unparalleled military strength, but the consequences on long term US interests are not questionable.

Following World War II Western strategists tried to fashion a global security strategy based on free trade and cooperation. In order to work, this strategy required US leadership to protect smaller states and enforce international standards. At the time, US policy makers perceived this to be consisted with US national interests. But what behaviors has this mega-role produced in US allies?

In terms of defense, US worldwide strategic partners have increasingly become free-riders. The US defense budget is roughly 4% of GDP. Contrast this with budgets of major US allies: defense spending in Canada is about 1% of GDP, in France 2.6%, in the UK 2.4%, in Germany 1.5%, and 1% in Japan. The comparative magnitude of US GDP widens these discrepancies.

One may argue that these budgets simply reflect a post-World War II proclivity in the US for military enlargement, while its allies perceive threats more realistically. A counter to this argument is China, a country which has pursued double-digit growth in its defense budget for the past several years on end. China spends around 4.3% of its GDP on defense—a higher percentage than the US—and in purchasing power parity dollars, Chinese GDP is close to 75% of US GDP. Even when allowance is made for the irrelevance of purchasing power parity analysis for some types of military goods, this is still a formidable development. The charge that Washington is hyper-sensitivity to security threats does not sufficiently explain the budget gaps.

International security is by nature a public good—many entities benefit from it, few are keen to produce it. The US has been the sine quo non Western security provider since World War II, as is reflected in defense budget comparisons with its allies. It is time for them to assume a larger role in international security.

1 comment:

atom said...

From the US view, I don't think the US should put down the burden on its shoulders, or it will hurt US interest.

First, as a so called hegemon, the US is responsible to be the security provider in the international community. Of course the US can allow or persuade its allies to share the duties. However, under such situation, the US will lose its geopolitical strategic interest. For example, recently the US wanted to deploy missile defense system in Europe. If the US asks the Poland and Cezech Republic to build their own or put more conventional force at their borders, then it will lose whatever it should have gained.

Second,the US withdrawal may cause chaos in the international community, becasue the "vacum of power" triger competition. The role of the US in the East Asia is perceived by some scholars as constraint on the Japanese military development. With the US military presence, Japan will not pursue military development. Otherwise, Japan will develop its military with its strong economy, other Asian countries will also pursue their military development as well, which results to an arms race in the region.

Thus, I think for the US interest and the international security (in some cases), the US should keep on take the role of major security provider.