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Debate: Does a Stronger Military Make Us Safer?

In this debate, Jan Ting, professor of law at Temple University, and Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, discuss whether war is ever justified. Prof. Ting argues that while war should be a last resort, there are occasions where the consequences of not going to war outweigh the costs of war. He uses World War II as an example in which war prevented great evil. Prof. Caplan argues for strict pacifism, saying it is highly unlikely that any benefits of war would outweigh the horrific costs.

In this clip, Prof. Caplan argues that perhaps we should consider abolishing the U.S. military. When the Soviet Union’s Red Army collapsed, the U.S.S.R. ceased to pose any real threat to the world and no one attacked. He argues that having an army can anger or provoke other countries who feel threatened by a military. While he would not go as far as to say that the U.S. military should absolutely be dismantled, he did suggest that military spending could be cut dramatically without posing any great threat to the United States. What do you think about this topic?

What Some Call “Isolationism” Others Call “Common Sense” [article]: Christopher Preble at the Cato Institute argues that military intervention and aid simply allows other countries to “free ride” on American efforts


Subsidizing the Security of Wealthy Allies (video): A Cato Institute video on how wealthy countries “free ride” on US military aid when they can afford to bear the cost of defense


Armed, Overbearing, and Dangerous [article]: A Cato piece on how US military spending far surpasses that of any other country in the world, bloating our army and making other countries suspicious


What Should the United States Do about Syria? [article series]: A New Republic symposium with a host of different takes on US military intervention in Syria. Is intervention morally justified? Is it practical?


Ron Paul on Military Spending versus Isolationism (video): John Stossel differentiates opposition to nation-building from isolationism and lists a litany of jobs the US military is currently expected to perform


Should We Abolish the US Army? [debate forum]: A reddit-like debate forum where two sides battle it out on an issue and you vote for a winner


A Strong and Focused Foreign Policy [article]: Jay Carafano at the Heritage Foundation argues that both isolationism and interventionism are not prudent foreign policy positions


Failing to Fund Defense Will Have Consequences [article]: Jim Talent at Heritage argues that the sequester will undermine US military effectiveness abroad


Why Stop There? [article]: Foreign Policy magazine contends that the debate over cuts in the US military budget boils down to confusion over the proper role of the military


Debate: Does a Stronger Military Make Us Safer?
JAN TING: Are you in favor of abolishing the U.S. military given the fact that you’re so committed to never using it? Isn’t that the logical outcome of what you’re saying?
BRYAN CAPLAN: The answer is a definite maybe. Here’s what I would say. It is often the case that countries have military problems because they have a military. The Soviet Union was at risk because the Red Army was powerful. When the Red Army collapsed, the Soviet Union became safer, because they were no longer terrifying and frightening and terrifying other countries. Other countries were no longer scared for their lives. It is easy—it is often possible for unilateral disarmament even to reduce the risk that a country faces. And note that it doesn’t specifically require that you have democracies on the other side. Communist China was still on the Soviet border. They disarmed. They did not get a sneak attack from communist China. As a general rule, being better armed does not always make you safer. It often makes you less safe, because it provokes other countries, angers them. So I would say it is a very good idea for the U.S. to greatly reduce its military spending and at least see what happens. I think that it’s quite likely that we could get an outcome as good as what the Swiss have: namely, since no one is scared of them, nobody bothers them.

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14 Comments

  1. Greg Gauthier

    It is the state ITSELF that makes a population unsafe. Eliminate the state, and you eliminate 90% of the threats of theft, assault, kidnapping, and murder, that most civilians face in any given day.

  2. Matt Wavle

    On a personal level, staying well armed is a good thing.  But militarizing the police has always let to a police state.

  3. agavin2342

    I can understand where he’s coming from, and is definitely a thought provoking argument. However, I do believe it is important to have a strong military. The US Navy is being unnecessarily dwindled down–but the US Navy doesn’t just preform tasks related to the defence of the US, they also provide medical relief via ships like the USNS Mercy, help fight the war on piracy, and aid the traders that account for over 90% of the world’s international commerce. 

    Countries like the United States also cannot afford to take such action. We’ve already made a "name" for ourselves internationally, and have our band of enemies as well that would love the opportunity. The fact of the matter is, not everybody has good intentions. There are people who wouldn’t blink an eye if they killed thousands of innocent people. Our military both defends our country and provides the necessary aid and relief to many places around the world. 
  4. Ryan Boyd

    One great problem here though is that our interests are unfortunately reliant on a number of conditions that must be maintained elsewhere, some of which are quite unpopular. The nature of these conditions as good or bad for the countries and the people is another topic, but the USA would not likely be the top economic power if it didn’t have the ability to, unfortunately, force its will upon others.

  5. andrei.roibu

    I don not agree with this statement. The power of a nation is not measured in it’s economy or culture, but in it’s military. The man with the bigger stick is the one which will prevail. Look at the US and other strong countries in the world. You will see that the power of their armies are the incentive of any negotiation, and, the power of the army is a DIRECT consequence, of the power of the economy. Also, bu creating a safe climate, the military assures prosperous and safe economical growth. 

  6. kgauck

    Professor Caplan does not apply the lesson of the seen and the unseen to international affairs. 

    "The good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen. Yet this difference is tremendous; for it almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. Whence it follows that the bad economist pursues a small present good that will be followed by a great evil to come, while the good economist pursues a great good to come, at the risk of a small present evil."

    - Bastiat
    The role of the United States’ nuclear and large conventional forces is to make great power war impossible. By abandoning this role, we re-ignite great power competition to fill that vacuum. We would be lucky if the consequence merely forced re-armament, because I think the long run – perhaps a quarter century from now – could be a great power conflict that would erase any gains by disarmament. Indeed the cost of great power war is so great that the cost of maintaining a large, credible peacetime military is an example of Bastiat’s "small present evil." 
    We have the present example of an administration talking loudly and carrying a small stick, waving the flag of weakness, and the result is not greater peace, but increasing bellicosity by other great powers. The other great powers will restrain themselves when the incentives of restraint outweigh the incentives for aggression. When America last turned inward, the number of democratic states fell to something on the order of a dozen. Under the American system established after American entered WWII, liberalization expanded everywhere. Because I value liberty, not only for myself but in and of itself, I shudder to think of the costs to peace and to liberty by such a proposal as that put forward by Professor Caplan.
  7. Anonymous

    How do you figure our military protects us from "bands of enemies" that can "kill thousands of innocent people"?  You are alluding to terrorists, who the military are terrible at fighting and who our military increase in numbers and finding with every nation we destroy.  How much to Japan and Canada and Australia worry about terrorists?  
    The American military hasn’t served a useful function in my lifetime, each engagement the have been tasked with has made myself and my children less safe and for the purpose of propping up the petro dollar standard that benefits big spending politicians and billionaire industrialists.  

  8. Pyrphoros

    That’s a bold statement. Where is your explaination? Do you think taxation is theft, arresting criminals assault and jailing them kidnapping or where do you get those numbers from?

  9. Hunter Markson

    If almost everyone in the US owned a gun, the need for a military to fight off foreign invasion would be lower

  10. Lukas Koube

    there are 300,000,000 guns in the us, an average of 1 per person :D

    i dont think any country could reasonably invade the US….and few would want to if we didnt have so many oversea bases. 
  11. Matt Wavle

    While I’m all for Peace through Strength, as Ronald Reagan put it.  There is a point to be made on the way the Swiss handle things.  Perhaps if we had their natural defenses and required all to serve time in the military and carry weapons, we also could have the other freedoms that they enjoy.  

  12. Matt Wavle

    Do you think taxation is NOT theft?  Do you believe the appropriate action in response to someone owning an “unauthorized” plant OUGHT to be kidnapping them at gunpoint, locking them in a cage and keeping them from any productive activity that they could use to support themselves or their family?  Do you believe that the young man who shot a home invader in the face OUGHT to be facing the death penalty merely because what he thought was a home invasion turned out to be a “no knock raid” that was actually at the wrong address?  IF you can back up any of these three positions then do so.  The burden of proof is not on Greg Gauthier, or anyone else supporting personal and economic liberties and those in favor of a uniformed application of the non-aggression principle.  The burden is, and by all rights ought to be, on those who would tax, jail and prosecute.

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