Many security analysts of a libertarian bent have advocated a grand strategy of "restraint," "military restraint," "strategic independence," or "independent internationalism." Such a tack desires to resume the traditional foreign policy of the republic as initiated by the nation's Founders and followed for the most part up until the Spanish-American War at the turn of the twentieth century. Even after that war, the policy recurred until the presidential administration of Woodrow Wilson and World War I and again between the two world wars, finally giving way after World War II to the much more aggressive foreign policy of a globe-girdling superpower. Unlike the post-World War II interventionist orgy, this traditional grand strategy usually erred on the side of staying out of most foreign conflicts.
The nation's Founders created a republic and knew that getting enmeshed in foreign wars, especially those of Europe, was the quickest way to lose it. A famous quote by James Madison should demonstrate the Founders' antimilitaristic attitudes and suspicions that standing armies used to fight wars would usurp American citizens' liberty: "Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other" (1795, 491-92). In both U.S. and world history, war is the most prominent cause of expanding government power, especially presidential power, in both the security and nonsecurity realms (that is, increased government interference with civil liberties and in the domestic economic and social spheres).
Although most libertarians recognize the state's role in defending the country from foreign threats, some libertarians also realize the problems at home and abroad that excessive government military meddling abroad usually generate, which some of their brethren and conservatives and liberals have forgotten. These modern-day carriers of the torch for a resumption of the Founders' traditional foreign policy have called it by the aforementioned names. Eugene Gholz, a professor at Dartmouth, popularized the term restraint. Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute coined the term strategic independence (1992, 7-10). Before them, President Herbert Hoover was known for using the term independent internationalism (Wilson 1975, 168).
Of course, it is a matter of preference which term one uses, but all of them are aimed at conveying a sparing use of government force or coercion against other countries and groups--that is, doing so only when U.S. vital interests really hang in the balance. To me, the term restraint is not descriptive enough, and the term military restraint could imply that the nation is sacrificing the attainment of some desirable objective by not using force--that is, it seems like the foreign-policy equivalent of going on a strict diet for no valid medical reason. In any event, the latter term certainly seems to define the traditional U.S. foreign policy as merely the foil to a policy of military interventionism, which is actually the true aberration in American history. Strategic independence is probably the most descriptive term, but it contains a bit of professional jargon with which the common citizen might not be familiar.
Leave it to a politician, Herbert Hoover, to popularize the most easily understood positive term for the policy--independent internationalism. This term implies not only that the United States should remain detached from permanent and entangling alliances and the coercion or wars they can bring but also that the United States should be involved in the world, thus combating the pejorative term isolationist that neoconservatives and liberal hawks alike fling at libertarians. Of course, a libertarian foreign policy, with emphasis on free-flowing private cultural and economic interactions by American citizens abroad, is hardly "isolationist." Libertarians object only to unnecessary government-centric use of force against other countries or groups. In fact, interventionists are the ones who usually isolate other nations by imposing economic sanctions or war on them. War is the most isolating condition of all--smashing production, economic interactions, health, nutrition, and civilization itself and cutting the target country off from commercial and financial transactions abroad, including from the attacking nation.
Some libertarians might chafe at using a term associated with Herbert Hoover. It is true that Hoover probably turned a run-of-the-mill recession into the Great Depression by using more government intervention in the economy than had any prior president. An influential adviser to Franklin Delano Roosevelt even admitted that FDR's New Deal merely followed the precedents originally set by Hoover (Wilson 1975, 158). Yet at the same time that Hoover was wrecking the economy, he had the most independent, responsible, and peaceful foreign policy of the twentieth century (and so far up through the twenty-first). Thus, he intervened abroad less than he did at home.
It was not a perfect foreign policy by any means, but it eschewed military and economic coercion, achieved international arms control, and improved relations with most nations, including those in Latin America, the traditional U.S. playground under even responsible presidents such as Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge (Robinson and Bornet 1975, 97-108, 196-203). So, in Hoover's honor, I use the term independent internationalism to describe returning to the traditional U.S. foreign policy of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Whatever libertarian foreign-policy writers, including me, have called the policy, they have explored and analyzed in great depth what the truly vital interests of the United States are and are not. However, they have paid less attention to the military forces that would be needed for variants of such a "more humble" foreign policy. That is what this article tries to do.
Three Force Options for Independent Internationalism
Here I put forth three options of military force structure to satisfy varying shades of the grand strategy of independent internationalism--each with a different level of ambition in the national interests being secured. However, all are a far cry from the current gargantuan and excessive military needed to execute the costly (in money and lives), incoherent, and contradictory grand strategy of selected world hegemony (primacy) practiced by the post-World War II American superpower. (1) In 2015, the United States was spending more on defense than what the next seven highest spenders on security expended combined (Peterson Foundation 2016). The American Empire is overextended--accounting for more than one-third of the world's military spending (Tully 2015) but for only about 16 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) (in relation to Purchasing Power Parity dollars) (Statista 2016)--and is over $19 trillion in debt ("U.S. National Debt Clock" n.d.). The grand strategy of independent internationalism is designed to dramatically reduce spending on defense, which would also need to be combined with drastic cuts in domestic spending, to allow national economic renewal and a shrinkage of the nation's massive public debt. All other indices of national power--military, political, and social--derive from a robust economy. Such national renewal could begin by adopting one of the following three force structures to carry out independent internationalism.
Option One: The Constitutional Choice
The Constitution allows the federal government to provide only for the "common defence," but the government has continuously violated this stipulation by projecting offensive force all over the post-World War II world, thus creating an informal empire. This empire differs from formal empires, such as the Roman and British Empires, and consists of one-sided U.S.-dominated alliances, hundreds of overseas military bases to defend those allies, and profligate military interventions to police the globe. All of the options discussed in this paper abandon these three pillars of empire, but the first option also restores the U.S. military to a constitutional footing. Option one is the most modest choice of the three military choices offered for effectuating independent internationalism. See table 1 for the explication of a constitutional force structure for the U.S. Armed Forces.
Astonishingly, a look at the U.S. Constitution's text leads to the conclusion that a large part of the current U.S. military is unconstitutional. As noted earlier, the nation's Founders had a well documented suspicion of standing armies, and the text of the Constitution reflects that suspicion. The Constitution authorizes Congress to "raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years" (Art. I, sec. 8, emphasis added). Both the use of the terms raise and the plural armies as well as the time limit on funding for any armies created show that the Founders did not mean for a single permanent standing army to remain during peacetime. Contrast this terminology with the Constitution's much different language governing the navy. The Congress was authorized "to provide and maintain a Navy" with none of the previous qualifiers--indicating that a permanent navy was to be maintained. The Founders astutely concluded that standing armies, not navies, had the potential to quash citizens' liberties.
Of course, many analysts--most of whom have a vested interest in the current system--would retort that the Constitution was written in the eighteenth century for a far different world than the one we inhabit today. First, however, this response ignores the fact that the rule of law is central to a republic and that if circumstances have changed so significantly since 1787 that a standing army is needed, it would probably not be hard to pass a constitutional amendment establishing one--especially since the public has...