Monday, August 28, 2006

The Problem of Military Power

A commenter called stylerm over at asked the question: what is the Libertarian position on pre-emptive strikes? As I typed an answer, it got entirely too large for a comment. What I would have posted follows below:

Depends on who you talk to. Some libertarians feel that matters of national defense are one of the few legitimate functions of government. Others believe the private sector could solve even that problem. I fall somewhere in between, though as to pre-emptive strikes, I think we all agree they should not be done.

As to military policy, I am fanatically opposed to the maintenance of a peacetime federal military, possibly, though not necessarily, excluding a naval force adequate to suppress piracy. I believe our latent military capacity ought to be maintained by state-controlled (that's "state" in the US sense, not the classical sense) organizations and private organizations and individuals--militias, essentially. I believe that, in the event of an attack, these groups could be tapped for early defensive power, with the federal government able to build a professional military for use in the war in question. Once peace is concluded, the military should be disbanded completely. This would have a number of advantages.

For one, it would make the continual efforts of various government officials to "reform," "modernize," or otherwise update the military unnecessary. There would be no struggle against an entrenched officer corps because there would be no entrenched officer corps. Each and every war would be approached with a military organization specially formed for the fighting of that particular conflict. There would be no piles upon piles of legacy hardware to painstakingly replace, there would be no outdated tactical dogma to fight against, and there would be no entrenched interest groups. In the event of an unavoidable war, there would be, instead, a great variety of models to draw from, both domestic and foreign.

The other advantage, and the most attractive one to me, would be the fact that, in such a scenario, it would be nearly impossible for political leaders at the federal level to plunge the country into an avoidable war. Every diplomatic problem would be approached by the executive branch with the idea that the President does not have a military to draw on in the event that a foreign representative or people are unnecessarily insulted. There would be no attempts to coerce foreign governments into signing lopsided agreements with the tacit threat of military intervention (or withdrawal of military support), because they would have neither to offer. The most sensible path for our diplomatic corps would be a genuine path of neutrality.

It was just such a country that "saved Europe's ass back in World War 2." I fear that, in this era, it is our own country from which the world will need to be saved...

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