The Military Mission and Budget Talks
A couple of days ago I lamented that cuts in the Defense Budget seemed to be absent in the budget discussions. But it goes much deeper than that. What we really need is a discussion of foreign policy goals and the mission of military. While I never approved of the United States being the World’s policeman it should be obvious to anyone not living in a bubble we can no longer afford it. Is a heavy U.S. presence in the Middle East in the national interest? And by that I mean is it in the interest of the majority of the American citizens not multi-national corporations. The answer is no! The people of the Middle East hate us because we have been messing in their affairs for years supporting tyrants and dictators who supported corporations. Osama bin Laden himself said 911 was because the U.S. had a military presence in Saudi Arabia. The United States spends more money on the military than the other top 13 countries comnbined and for what?
What with the entire national political debate being perpetually centered on fiscal priorities, it’s truly striking how little attention is being devoted (outside a few left-wing or libertarian precincts) to the option of a significant retrenchment of U.S. defense commitments. Yes, there’s plenty of talk, mostly from Republicans, about the deflationary impact of letting the scheduled defense spending sequestration go through (on this subject they are quite happy to be Keynesians). But after all, if there was a consensus that the country’s mammoth military advantage over all adversaries potential and actual was sufficiently safe (particularly at a time when other countries are struggling to make ends meet as well) to allow for a different strategy, we could happily fight over whether to devote the “hegemony dividend” to deficit reduction, domestic spending or tax cuts. And it’s worth remembering that it’s defense spending cuts without significant changes in the Pentagon’s missions or force structure that run the risk of underfunding actual security needs.
I think it is time we look at significant changes to the Pentagon’s mission. We can no longer afford to be the World’s policeman and we really haven’t done a very good job of it anyway.
Yet even China currently has but one aircraft carrier, which doesn’t have any aircraft stationed on it. It’s a third-hand boat, a hand-me-down from the Soviet Union to the Ukraine, which China picked up at a yard sale in 1998. Meanwhile, the U.S. has 20 carriers—all of which come with actual planes.
As Tufts professor Michael Beckley points out, the U.S. now “formally guarantees the security of more than 50 countries,” which means the U.S. has more allies in the world than at any time in its history. More broadly, war between nation states has been incredibly rare since 1945. Europe is the most obvious beneficiary of Pax Americana: Before today, the last time the Rhine had gone this long without being crossed by armies with hostile intent was more than 2,000 years ago, according to economic historian Brad DeLong. The painful and often violent process of building independent nation states out of colonies was often stoked into civil war by the competing powers of the Cold War. But with the decline of that global struggle, and the growing legitimacy of the new countries, even civil wars are on the wane.
It’s not just land wars that are relics of the 20th century. There’s little incentive for the Chinese to block sea lanes in Asia, for instance, since much of the traffic going through is on the way to or from China itself—the world’s largest exporting nation. Similarly, blocking the Straits of Hormuz would be economic suicide for the Iranians—if they could even manage it. That leaves pirates, operating off rubber dinghies using knockoff AK-47s off the coast of Somalia. How many new $7 billion guided missile stealth-destroyers does the U.S. need to take them out?
We simply can’t afford to do this anymore. We need to do some nation building alright but here in the United States. If cutting defense spending will have a negative impact on the economy why won’t not spending on infrastructure here have the same negative impact. If we can’t afford to help senior citizens in this country we can’t afford to guarantee the security of other countries. If we can’t afford to repair our infrastructure we can’t afford to make the world safe for multi-national corporations most of which pay no taxes.