Sunset the Pentagon
Jude Wanniski
June 14, 2001


Memo To: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: A Post Cold-War Defense Department

You should be assured I was not unhappy when Senator Jim Jeffords defected from the GOP to put the Democrats in the majority and you in the leadership. I’m counting on you and your colleagues to prevent the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress from spending a trillion dollars on the national missile-defense boondoggle. Even if we could technically hit an incoming nuclear missile on the nose with a non-nuclear missile to destroy it, there are no “rogue nations” stupid enough to build an ICBM to deliver a weapon when they could sneak it in. The Pentagon arguments should be seen as coming from our gladiator class, which is not happy unless it has a war to fight. In fact, instead of simply debating this silly missile shield, when we have no adversaries crazy enough to build a nuclear missile to lob at us, I suggest you debate the whole concept of a “Defense Department.”

President Bush now is running around Europe trying to persuade our NATO allies and the Russians that the ABM Treaty is OBSOLETE, because THE COLD WAR IS OVER. But why then abrogate that treaty and spend a TRILLION DOLLARS on more exotic weapons? For the first time in the history of the world, we are at the tippy-top of the world political economy. There is not a single nation that shows the slightest interest in challenging that hegemony. Instead of debating new weapons systems, we should start from the other end of the spectrum and ask why we need a Defense Department at all. We should “sunset” the Pentagon. In other words, start with the assumption that we do not need ANY Pentagon, and ask that the Military-Industrial Complex tell us why they need to soak our taxpayers for astronomical sums of money when we have no visible adversaries.

Why do we need an Army and an Air Force and Marines and a Navy, for goodness sakes? If we dissolved the whole shootin’ match, the other nations of the world that now are forced to spend precious resources to protect themselves from threats from Uncle Sam would be able to follow our example and downsize from military empires to simple police forces. Doesn’t that make sense? When Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld took office a few months back, he undertook a reappraisal of Pentagon needs in this new era, but he did it in such secrecy that Republicans in Congress complained and your predecessor as Majority Leader, Trent Lott, had to call him on the carpet to get him to open up. Rumsfeld’s approach was from the top down, guaranteed to add to the Pentagon’s demands for resources when we already outspend the rest of the world combined on “national defense.”

Now I realize that if we actually were to go through this exercise, we would still wind up financing a Defense Department and soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines. But the “sunsetting” process would force us to seriously discuss and debate the responsibilities of our government in protecting us from adversarial threats and helping manage the rest of the world so that local brush fires do not spread to major conflagrations. This would be a very healthy exercise, of the kind that families undertake and private corporations must undertake from time to time, to clear away the costly and obsolete projects which served to deal with problems already solved. How nice it would be if we could have an arms race in the opposite direction, with nations competing to see how little they need spend on armaments instead of how much. The biggest outlays for our standing forces in the years ahead may be the salaries big enough to attract intelligent men and women to stand around for their productive lives doing nothing but watching and waiting, like the Maytag repairman.