Debate: Does a Stronger Military Make Us Safer?

Jan Ting, Bryan Caplan,

Release Date
June 6, 2013



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.