Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 11:02 | SYDNEY
Thursday 07 Oct 2021 | 11:02 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: US defence spending in context


Sam Roggeveen


20 March 2009 15:17

Alistair Maclean writes about my post from this morning:

It is hard to see how Matthew Yglesias and his piece in the avowedly liberal ThinkProgress blog provides any 'perspective' on the points made by Andrew Shearer.

One is about opposition to the level of defence spending in the US (by comparing current expenditure with the strategic environment of the Cold War, more than 20 years ago). The other is about the real-time impacts of a US retreat into thinly-disguised protectionism, and the strategic ambiguity engendered by reduced defence spending, and hence posture.

Both have very real consequences for Australia’s interests, especially in East Asia, which constitutes our central strategic sphere. Given the as-yet unknown consequences of the global financial crisis and Great Recession – important shifts in influence on the global trade in commodities provide us with some clues – they are extraordinarily pertinent.

I agree that any retreat into protectionism would be bad for us and the world.

As for the 'strategic ambiguity' caused by lower defence budgets, that's also a concern, but one we may have to learn to live with. US defence spending will still be extraordinarily high, even after the proposed cuts; that's what the Yglesias blog post I quoted was meant to illustrate.

But the US has global commitments and China does not, so given China's sustained economic growth and commensurate military expansion, a shift in the regional balance of power is inevitable. Indeed, I've written before that America's military advantage against China has eroded to such an extent that US security guarantees to Taiwan have to be seriously questioned. And that has occurred in a period of high US defence spending under Bush. It seems like an unstoppable trend, no matter what Obama does with defence spending.

Again, that's uncomfortable news for Australia, but Yglesias' post illustrates that it is not completely unknown territory. The US was content with a balance of power against the Soviet Union, rather than an overwhelming advantage. America and its allies may have to be content with a similar arrangement with China.