The Power Problem

The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free

Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 232
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Power Problem
    Book Description:

    Numerous polls show that Americans want to reduce our military presence abroad, allowing our allies and other nations to assume greater responsibility both for their own defense and for enforcing security in their respective regions. In The Power Problem, Christopher A. Preble explores the aims, costs, and limitations of the use of this nation's military power; throughout, he makes the case that the majority of Americans are right, and the foreign policy experts who disdain the public's perspective are wrong.

    Preble is a keen and skeptical observer of recent U.S. foreign policy experiences, which have been marked by the promiscuous use of armed intervention. He documents how the possession of vast military strength runs contrary to the original intent of the Founders, and has, as they feared, shifted the balance of power away from individual citizens and toward the central government, and from the legislative and judicial branches of government to the executive. In Preble's estimate, if policymakers in Washington have at their disposal immense military might, they will constantly be tempted to overreach, and to redefine ever more broadly the "national interest."

    Preble holds that the core national interest-preserving American security-is easily defined and largely immutable. Possessing vast military power in order to further other objectives is, he asserts, illicit and to be resisted. Preble views military power as purely instrumental: if it advances U.S. security, then it is fulfilling its essential role. If it does not-if it undermines our security, imposes unnecessary costs, and forces all Americans to incur additional risks-then our military power is a problem, one that only we can solve. As it stands today, Washington's eagerness to maintain and use an enormous and expensive military is corrosive to contemporary American democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5915-3
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-14)

    This book is about U.S. power, specifically U.S. military power: what it is, how it is measured, and how it should be used. It considers how much that power costs, and what benefits we as Americans derive from it. It ponders why our power sometimes doesn’t work, why our power has not contributed to our strength as a nation, and why in some cases it has actually undermined us. It explores how our possession of great power, and our willingness to use it in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq, has prompted others to appeal for us to intervene in Liberia,...

    (pp. 15-38)

    To the extent that our power problem is a military problem, we must begin by understanding what our military is, where it is, and what it does. Just as important, we have to understand how and why the U.S. military became the preeminent force of its kind in the world today, and likely the most capable in all of human history.

    Our military covers the four corners of the earth, and controls the skies and space. It patrols the oceans, not merely the surface, but the air above and the depths below. We face no peer competitor, few near-peer competitors,...

    (pp. 39-63)

    It was necessary to take stock of what we have, to consider where we are, and how we got here. But to look only at what our military provides us, and others, would be to ignore the other side of the balance sheet. Americans spend an enormous amount of money on the military. This chapter examines how much we spend, and where the money goes.

    The direct costs that Americans pay in order to develop, maintain, and extend our tremendous military power are relatively easy to calculate. And they are staggering. When one includes both the Pentagon’s budget and special...

    (pp. 64-86)

    Many Americans believe that reductions in the military budget, and changes to our overall strategy, would result in less security for the American people. Those who argue that we must spend as much as we do on our military—or more—are generally aware of the costs documented in chapter 2, but they contend that such costs are necessary. To count only the costs of what we choose to spend for our military, defenders of the status quo often say, is to ignore the costs that would be forced on us by, for example, another terrorist attack. By some estimates,...

    (pp. 87-115)

    Our power is a problem because it costs too much, and it costs too much because we have too much. The United States has far more power than we need to defend ourselves and our vital interests, but we incorrectly believe that our security rests on a stable world order, and that we alone are capable of imposing that order. If we focused most of our attention on our own security, we would need less power, and we would use it less.

    Consider how we have used our power in recent years. We use it to advance our security interests,...

    (pp. 116-134)

    Our power is a problem not merely because we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on our military, and thereby divert resources away from the private economy and from other domestic spending. The problem goes much deeper than that. Our vast power, and our propensity to use it, is also a problem because it discourages others from defending themselves. Our government’s willingness to use U.S. military power to defend others—for example, by pledging to treat an attack on them as the same as an attack on us—increases the risks that Americans will be drawn into foreign wars. Deploying...

    (pp. 135-163)

    As discussed in chapter 1, the basic outlines of our current grand strategy trace to 1992, when aides to the then defense secretary Richard Cheney sketched out the Pentagon’s plans for the first decade of the post–Cold War era. The primary objective of U.S. foreign policy, the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG) document explained, was to “prevent the re-emergence of a new rival” capable of challenging U.S. power in any vital area, including Western Europe, Asia, or the territory of the Soviet Union.¹ To accomplish this task, the United States would retain preponderant military power not merely to deter attacks...

    (pp. 164-170)

    It is possible that the United States could maintain its place at the top—alone at the top—of the global order for a very long time, but history teaches otherwise. It is more likely that as we struggle to stay ahead of others, we will live in a constant state of fear, and that we will never quite be able to overcome our nagging sense of insecurity. We will continue to spend more and more, convinced by our own rhetoric of an approaching near competitor. And as we spend, others will react. Some, our prospective adversaries, spurred by resentment,...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 171-204)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 205-212)