A quick hit from me, as I'm swamped with dissertation work and am also in grading purgatory. But this, via Tyler Cowen, is interesting:
Since 2008, in response to the economic downturn, most big European countries have cut defence spending by 10-15 per cent. The longer-term trends are even more striking. Britain’s Royal Air Force now has just a quarter of the number of combat aircraft it had in the 1970s. The Royal Navy has 19 destroyers and frigates, compared with 69 in 1977. The British army is scheduled to shrink to 82,000 soldiers, its smallest size since the Napoleonic wars. In 1990 Britain had 27 submarines (excluding those that carry ballistic missiles) and France had 17. The two countries now have seven and six respectively.Britain and France now have one aircraft carrier... combined (they share it). What this means is that the US now accounts for 50% of the world's naval power.
And yet Britain and France are commonly regarded as the only two European countries that still take defence seriously. The British point out that, even after the current round of cuts, the UK will have the fourth-largest military budget in the world. Britain is also, for the moment, one of only two European nations to meet the Nato target of devoting 2 per cent of gross domestic product to defence – the other is Greece.
The situation in most other European countries is worse – Spain devotes less than 1 per cent of GDP to military spending. And much European military spending goes on pensions or pay, not equipment. The Belgians distinguished themselves in the Libyan campaign of 2011. But about 75 per cent of Belgian military spending now goes on personnel – causing one critic to call the Belgian military “an unusually well-armed pension fund”.
Why does this matter? For awhile I've been hoping to carve out time for a short article with the working title "Against Ceteris Paribus Theories of International Relations". It is intended as a retort to those who claim, based on stylized comparative statics, that US military spending is essentially wasted and therefore those funds should be re-directed either to shoring up the social welfare state or tax rebates. (As of now I'm planning on targeting John Quiggin particularly, who has made similar arguments to these in especially egregious form on numerous occasions, but the scope may broaden, narrow, or shift in some other direction at the point of writing.)
In other words, the article will argue that if the US significantly lowered its military spending the effect would be dynamic, not static: an increase in security dilemmas worldwide, which would be marked by a large and sustained increase in military spending in the non-US world. The net effect could very well be great global military spending; this would be something of a tragedy on its own, since most military spending does not go to uses which expand human dignity and well-being. But it could be worse if security dilemmas lead to arms races which spiral into conflict.
The core of the argument will be this: take away 50% of the world's naval power... do you think anything else might change? Put into the language of economics, some sectors of the economy are natural monopolies; it just wouldn't be efficient to have 100 different telephone companies putting up poles all over the place. Similarly, from the perspective of global welfare, it is probably more efficient for the US to spend disproportionately on its military. There are downsides to this, of course, similar to market monopolies. Nevertheless, the most efficient outcome is likely for the US to out-spend the rest of the world to such an extent that security dilemmas (and concomitant arms races and conflict) do not result, accepting the negatives that go along with this positive.
Anyway, that paper is roughly 20th in the queue so I'll probably never get around to it.