Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Libertarian Nay-Saying on Foreign and Defense Policy

I've noticed that most "professional libertarians" -- those affiliated with places like Cato Institute and Reason Foundation -- have an isolationist (or "hands off") view of foreign policy and military ventures. (See the writings of Cato's Ted Galen Carpenter, for example.)

It's wise to be skeptical about the emanations from Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. But knee-jerk isolationism is unwise -- and unbecoming a libertarian. Libertarians generally take the view that defense is a legitimate function of government. Waiting until the enemy is at our shores or hidden among us isn't an effective defense strategy.

Yes, we can go -- and often have gone -- too far in the other direction: making unnecessary commitments to "allies" of dubious worth and wasting billions on ineffective and inappropriate weapons. But there are worthwhile alliances and suitable military postures. Libertarian specialists in foreign and defense affairs would be more credible if they would spend more time saying what's worthwhile and suitable, and less time saying "no" to whatever comes out of Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon.

In sum, libertarian think-tankers should be innovators, and not mere reactionaries, when it comes to foreign and defense policy. A detailed, coherent libertarian statement with a positive vision of foreign policy and military posture could be a compelling document. But it must a white paper, not a book. The executive summary should fit on one typeset page; the text should run no more than 10 typeset pages. Are you listening out there at Cato and Reason?

P.S. A nutty, Mises Institute-type position paper that tries to explain why defense isn't a public good will get you laughed out of town and might even cost you some big contributions.