The Founding Fathers were men of the Enlightenment, which meant that most of them had an engrained suspicion of large standing armies. Not only did a large standing army create a massive burden on the national budget, but it could potentially entice the national leadership to military adventurism of the kind undertaken by the Bush administration in Iraq. Even worse, a large standing army could potentially be used by the political faction in power to suppress the opposition by force, as Alexander Hamilton threatened to do to the political followers of Thomas Jefferson. Being well-versed in classical history, many of the Founding Fathers worried that a large standing army which was more loyal to its commander than it was to the state could bring down the legitimate government, as the armies of Marius, Sulla, and eventually Julius Caesar had done to the Roman Republic.
Alexander Hamilton aside, if the Founding Fathers could see the American military of the modern age, they would be very confused and not a little frightened. In 2011, the United States is by far the world's dominant military power. Indeed, the military budget of the United States is roughly as large as the rest of the world put together. While it is basic common sense for the nation to take adequate measures to guarantee its security, the massive American military expenditures every year are simply absurd, especially in an age of severe budget pressures and a rapidly increasing national debt.
While the Republicans and Democrats in Washington wrangle over the proper mix of tax inceases and spending cuts necessary to put our fiscal house in order, it is imperative that we put big reductions in military spending on the table, and the best way to achieve this is through a complete restructuring of the United States Army.
The current regular United States Army is made up of ten divisions, a number of independent brigades or regiments, and many independent smaller units. The personnel for these units are full-time regular soldiers, a substantial portion of whom intend the Army to be their lifetime career. Regular full-time strength of the Army is around 550,000 men. The Army Reserve, which is under federal control, contributes another 200,000 men.
Previously, this blog has raised the obvious question of why we have such an extensive network of permanent American military deployments overseas, including tens of thousands of soldiers in places like Germany, South Korea, and Japan. But why do we have such a large army in the first place? After all, there is no conventional military threat to the United States. Our borders are protected by two enormous oceans and two friendly and militarily weak neighbors. Even if our army was no bigger than Belgium’s, a successful foreign military invasion of the United States is about as likely as Bolivia invading Turkmenistan.
For a sound military policy, the United States would do well to go back to the ideal of a small army backed by a large militia system, which is precisely what existed in the early days of the Republic. The concept was quite simple: militias organized by the individual states would be used by the state governors to deal with immediate emergencies, such as Indian attacks or domestic disturbances, while only a small federal army would exist. In the unfortunate event of a major war with a foreign power, the militia units would be brought into federal service, with the regular army serving as the core of the wartime force large enough to win the war. When the war was over, the militia units would leave federal service and return to the states.
The idea of a national defense secured by a small regular army supplemented by militia units, which can be quickly expanded if necessary, has achieved great success in many countries. Indeed, it is the concept behind the structure of the Israeli Defense Forces, which has proven to be an astoundingly successful military force over the last six decades. And the United States has a ready-made organization to transform our current, bloated military into a much more suitable and affordable fighting force: the National Guard.
The Army National Guard has eight divisions and a large number of independent service brigades, with a total strength of about 450,000. Unlike the personnel of the regular Army, the men and women of the National Guard are not full-time professionals, but reservists. They serve, as their motto states, "one weekend a month and two weeks a year." When not training or on actual duty, the men and women of the National Guard are ordinary citizens, working ordinary jobs and living ordinary lives. During peacetime, they may be called into service by their state's governor in the event of an emergency, such as civil unrest or a natural disaster, but they can also be called into federal service in the event of war.
Recently, National Guard units have served with a high degree of effectiveness in both Afghanistan and Iraq. At any given time, between a quarter and a half of all American personnel in the conflict zones have been members of the National Guard, and by all accounts the performance of the National Guardsmen has been outstanding. The successful and effective service rendered to the country by the National Guardsmen in these conflicts should forever put to rest the assertions by some that volunteer reservists cannot make effective soldiers.
The age in which we live calls for a complete revamping of America's military policy, and the National Guard should play a major role in this. An ideal policy would include a substantial reduction of the active-duty military by converting perhaps half of the regular divisions and brigades of the United States Army into National Guard formations. Our grand strategy should thereafter rely less on the regular standing army and more on the National Guard. As part of this shift, we should obviously terminate most, if not all, of our overseas military deployments. In the unlikely event of a war with a major foreign power, the National Guard could serve as the core of a great national army, and would be returned to its ordinary state once the war was concluded.
Such a policy would allow the United States to maintain a more-than-sufficient ability to defend itself, especially as our security is mostly dependent upon strong naval power in any event. It would also allow us to significantly reduce military expenditures, vastly relieving pressure on the federal budget, which is a much greater threat to the American republic than any foreign enemy. It would remove the temptation for military adventurism that brought such disastrous results to the country during the Bush administration. Finally, American society would also be enriched by the contributions of hundreds of thousands of citizens whose energies would otherwise be sadly devoted to destructive ends.