Donald Trump's big present for America is a bigger and more lethal military.

Trump just dropped his first Budget and he plans to spend a lot more money on the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Special Forces.

America will get "a larger, more capable, and more lethal joint force," the budget says.
The big question is: Why?

America already spends about twenty times as much on its military as Australia does.


Trump's increase alone is almost twice as much as Australia spends on its military in total.

But maybe that makes sense, right? After all, America has nuclear weapons, which are expensive, and aircraft carriers and such that we don't have.

How does it compare to powerful countries that have those things?

That's right, even before this latest increase America spent more money than the other seven big spenders put together! (nb. data excludes North Korea, who don't release the information, for obvious reasons).

America's outrageous spending difference might make sense if all those other seven were ganging up on it, but in fact five of those seven countries are American allies.

America is also right near the top of the rankings for spending per capita, beaten only by a few small countries whose enemies are right on their borders.


Now, it could be that all this American military spending is what keeps me safe. It could be that the exact reason the rest of the world spends so much less than America on its military is because America is so strong.


"No point in buying up bombers and fighters", think America's allies, "because America has so many".

"No point in buying up submarines and warships," think America's enemies, "because America has so many."

This is the theory of stability provided by a single superpower. Like the ancient Romans' pax Romana, America is providing a big pax Americana.

It's a cool story, but it reminds me of the rock that keeps away tigers. (I carry one. See any tigers? Must be working.)

There are many examples of big powerful states oppressing their weaker neighbours, and even more examples of two equally powerful countries existing side-by-side peacefully for military spending to be a big predictor of peace.


The problem with the American military is it's a big shiny toy, and most American presidents can't resist playing with it.

George W Bush had his Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, and Obama had his long list of drone strikes. Before them, Bush and Clinton got stuck into Iraq and Somalia, respectively.

The President gets told he has enormous power. The most powerful military in the world.

They're not wrong. The US military has unmatched capability at making small areas of the world extremely hot for very short periods, and accelerating small pieces of material in precisely calculated and dangerous ways, etc.

But that sort of offensive power is not quite the same as the power to achieve what you're trying to achieve. We've seen this most clearly in Iraq.

The military kicked out Saddam Hussein pretty quick smart, but that turned out to be about 1 per cent of the task. For the next 99 per cent of the time they flailed around, wearing camouflage and driving Humvees like a bunch of total bosses, but not really making much in the way of useful progress. Instead lots and lots of people died and the place eventually got taken over by ISIS.

"There would be no Isis if we had not invaded Iraq," according to former US military adviser David Kilcullen, speaking in 2016.

(It turns out the senior ranks of ISIS are full of a lot of former senior people from the Saddam Hussein government that couldn't be employed again, and are seriously mad at the USA.)

Having a gun in your house for self defence makes you more likely to shoot yourself or a family member than an intruder. Could having an ever more powerful military make you more likely to make interventions that make global security worse not better?

We may get a good test of this question soon. The diplomatic balance with North Korea seems to be deteriorating rapidly. America's head diplomat says that diplomacy has "failed," and the North Koreans are saying ""Now, the situation is already on the brink of nuclear war."

Will Mr Trump be able to avoid the temptation to use the military he's just spent so much taxpayers' money on?