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U.S. should charge the world for defending it

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Today the U.S. underwrites the defense of wealthy nations across the globe. Washington should stop using the Pentagon as a global welfare agency. Uncle Sam at least should charge for his defense services, as Donald Trump has suggested. America shouldn’t be defending its rich friends for free.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11 demonstrated that the Department of Defense is not well-prepared to defend Americans. For that reason Congress created a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security. The Pentagon devotes much of its resources to projecting power abroad to defend other, mostly wealthy nations. In most of these cases America has no important, let alone vital, interests at stake.

The obvious answer is to stop doing stupid things, as President Barack Obama preached but failed to practice. Washington should allow allies and friends to protect themselves. They have the wherewithal and incentive to do the job; government welfare creates dependency among foreign as well as domestic recipients.

But if Washington policymakers are determined to remain in charge irrespective of Americans’ interests, a second best would be to make those being defended pay. As Trump observed: “I keep asking, how long will we go on defending South Korea from North Korea without payment?”

How much should Washington charge? Consider some rough numbers. For instance, Washington might charge one percent of GDP for providing a standard defense.

Defending countries with globe-spanning interests could result in greater complications for America. In such cases the U.S. should add another percent to its fee.

Some nations are enmeshed in military confrontations which threaten to draw in allies and friend. Add an extra percent to the price for defending these nations. An American nuclear guarantee takes the risks for America to a new level. Providing a “nuclear umbrella” warrants another percent fee.

Finally, countries that don’t seem interested in their own defense, or at least interested enough to spend much on their own behalf, turn themselves into targets. For the defense laggards Washington should impose a one percent surcharge.

Such an approach would generate significant revenues for the U.S. European states would owe a base one percent. The European Union’s GDP of $18.5 trillion would yield a charge of $185 billion. For devoting so little to the military the EU, minus the four countries spending more than two percent of GDP on the military, would have to kick in another percent, for roughly $147 billion.

The Baltic states and Poland would owe an extra $13 billion for being involved in a potential conflicts and receiving a nuclear guarantee. France, Britain and Germany would need to kick in an extra $96 billion for extras (global interests or nuclear protection).

Canada would owe $18 billion. Saudi Arabia should pay three percent, or $22.4 billion: basic fee plus add-ons for potential conflict and a combination of (reduced) charges for commercial global involvement and possible nuclear guarantee. The other Gulf states should pay $8.9 billion.

Japan should pay four percent — for standard defense, nuclear umbrella, minimal military outlays, and a combination of economic international involvement and limited potential conflict — or $184 billion. South Korea would owe the standard fee plus surcharges for potential conflict and nuclear guarantee, or $42 billion. Australia should pay one percent, or $15 billion. The Philippines would owe two percent, given the potential for conflict, yielding $5.7 billion.

The grand total comes to $737 billion, which would cover the roughly $570 billion likely to be spent on the military next year. The extra would go for expenses not commonly counted in annual expenditures: Veterans’ benefits and the interest on money borrowed to pay to defend other states.

Of course, some countries might refuse to pay. But Washington should indicate that if they don’t, they will be on their own. No longer should Washington allow even close friends to be deadbeats. The easiest way for states to avoid paying America for its efforts would be to defend themselves.

With the U.S. functionally bankrupt, Washington should lay down the burden of acting as the globe’s combination policeman, social engineer, and welfare agent. But if U.S. policymakers can’t get over the idea of attempting to manage the affairs of every other nation, at least they should insist on charging for services provided at American citizens’ expense. That would allow Washington to cover its own defense costs, which would be a good start.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who writes regularly on military non-interventionism.

  • 151E

    Japan already pays annually some 1.8 billion USD in protection money, colloquially known as the ‘sympathy budget’, for the honour of being America’s unsinkable aircraft carrier, whereas I always thought it customary for tenants to pay.

  • manoj

    What if all the countries you mention say, we will not pay and you are welcome to take your ships and forces back with you. Is the US willing to walk away? The costs currently incurred is essentially the cost associated with the US knowingly and willingly wanting to maintain its supremacy in the world. The US does not need to be the global policeman but if it wants to then it should be ready to bear the costs associated with it. On the flip side it should be willing to face the consequences of other countries namely China and Russia who will be more than happy to fill the vacuum created by a withdrawing US. There are always two sides to a coin.

  • Stephen Kent

    I’m no expert, but I know that the claim “at least they should insist on charging for services provided at American citizens’ expense” is massively misleading because most countries already do pay for their own “defence” (or encirclement if you happen to be China) through their dollar reserves. As I understand it, the dollar is the currency of international trade, so when states such as China and Japan inevitably build up huge reserves of dollars, they have very few options as to what to do with this cash other than to buy US treasury bonds, the proceeds from which then go to the Pentagon to fuel further military spending. The idea that the hard working American pays taxes so that the rest of the world can enjoy the benefit of having US military bases all over the place is just too absurd for words; it’s the fact that the country has been more or less completely in charge of the global finance and trade system since the end of World War II and that the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 seems to have had no adverse affects on faith in the dollar that allows the United States’ government to maintain their global military and financial supremacy – completely for their own benefit. This article must surely be satire, and if it is not, anything this author writes should be ignored.

  • Stephen Kent

    I’m no expert, but I know that the claim “at least they should insist on charging for services provided at American citizens’ expense” is massively misleading because most countries already do pay for their own “defence” (or encirclement if you happen to be China) through their dollar reserves. As I understand it, the dollar is the currency of international trade, so when states such as China and Japan inevitably build up huge reserves of dollars, they have very few options as to what to do with this cash other than to buy US treasury bonds, the proceeds from which then go to the Pentagon to fuel further military spending. The idea that the hard working American pays taxes so that the rest of the world can enjoy the benefit of having US military bases all over the place is just too absurd for words; it’s the fact that the country has been more or less completely in charge of the global finance and trade system since the end of World War II and that the abandonment of the gold standard in 1971 seems to have had no adverse affects on faith in the dollar that allows the United States’ government to maintain their global military and financial supremacy – completely for their own benefit. This article must surely be satire, and if it is not, anything this author writes should be ignored.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Is this NOT tongue-in-cheek? I think you’ll find a good many nation’s voters would be more than happy to have American bases on their soils vacated. And perhaps if the U.S. were to rid itself of the need to poke it’s nose in everywhere, it wouldn’t need to patrol the entire planet.

  • KietaZou

    From Wikipedia: “Bandow resigned from Cato in December, 2005, after admitting he accepted payments from lobbyist Jack Abramoff
    over approximately ten years in return for publishing articles
    favorable to Abramoff’s clients. The articles identified his affiliation
    with Cato but he did not tell Cato about the payments. He has referred
    to these activities as “a lapse of judgment,” saying that he accepted
    payments for “between 12 and 24 articles.”[4] Copley News Service, which had carried Bandow’s syndicated column for a number of years, suspended him immediately.”

    A paid shill who found a new bunch of evil rich men to pay him for shilling. Proof unneeded that simply being a “conservative” is always immoral, unlike being a liberal, where it is very often in question.

  • Tando

    Well can Europe charge the US then for all the refugees in Europe right now. The main reason for the refugee crisis is American intervention in the middle east. A war of choice which had nothing to do with 9.11. or wmds.

  • Tando

    Well can Europe charge the US then for all the refugees in Europe right now. The main reason for the refugee crisis is American intervention in the middle east. A war of choice which had nothing to do with 9.11. or wmds.