New Thinking Needed – Not More Pentagon Spending

In our country the endless increases in military spending are only matched by an equally endless propensity for wars and military conflicts.

Biden’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposes $813 billion for the Pentagon. This is a 4% increase over the bloated $782 billion approved by Congress for 2022  – which was a 5.6% increase from 2021. Every year “defense” spending increases. It makes no difference which party is in control. It doesn’t matter what the the real threats are to the country. It makes no difference how much of this money is unaccounted for, lost to fraud or otherwise wasted. The military industrial complex must be fed.

Since the end of WW2 roughly half of discretionary federal spending has been consumed by the Pentagon. Half of our disposable income that could have funded important human needs and necessary public infrastructure disappeared into the Pentagon black hole. Today we are spending more than the next 11 countries combined.

All this ”defense spending” is suppose to deter war, keep us safe, spread democracy, and promote peace. But none of this has happened. For the last 77 years our government has been constantly engaged in war, military actions or covert operations someplace in the world. Since the first Iraq War in 1990 to our withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, U.S  forces were continuously engaged in those two countries.

Is all this necessary because we live in a dangerous world full of “bad guys” and protecting ourselves and our friends is a constant battle? Or is it because of our militaristic thinking and the political power of the military contractors?

In his book “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War,” Andrew Bacevich says our ruling elite think we have a responsibility to lead the world. As world leader the “essentials of international peace and order” requires a U.S. global military presence ready to intervene in other countries. This self-appointed role as the world’s policeman requires the U.S to “maintain military capabilities staggeringly in excess of those required for self defense.”

Despite the huge spending by the Pentagon, we have “won” few of these wars. William Astore, a retired military officer, has written extensively on our failure to win conflicts. He says, “In my lifetime of nearly 60 years, America has waged five major wars, winning one decisively, then throwing that victory away, while losing the other four disastrously. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, as well as the Global War on Terror, were the losses, of course; the Cold War being the solitary win that must now be counted as a loss because its promise was so quickly discarded.”

Andrew Bacevich has also written, “The U.S. wasted little time in squandering the advantages it had gained by winning the cold war…The assertion of global leadership provided American soldiers with plentiful opportunities to explore exotic and unfamiliar lands, but few would mistake the results for even an approximation of dominion, much less peace and harmony.”

There was no “peace dividend” from the end of the Cold War. Nor was there any increase in stability, security, peace or any other positive results from any of our military conflicts. Mostly there was only death and destruction for the targeted countries. Afghanistan is only one of many examples.

Today the Pentagon mission statement calls for maintaining “full spectrum dominance” world wide on land, in the air, on the seas, in space and cyberspace. The Pentagon plans to be able to conduct two major wars at once. This is hardly defense of the homeland. It is aggressive and offensive. Aircraft carriers are not defensive weapons. They are floating forts intended to “project power” around the world. We have many weapons systems whose primary purpose is offensive, not defensive.

There is no national policy to maintain “full spectrum” global mediation and negotiation. We never talk about “projecting” cooperation or peace. We have about 800 military bases worldwide but no comparable network of conflict resolution and arbitration centers.  Yes, we do have embassies, foreign aid programs, the Peace Corps, and similar activities. Yes, we participate in a number of cooperative international organizations (often to limit their effectiveness). But these activities receive minuscule funding in comparison to the war budget. Year after year war consumes 50% of the discretionary budget while diplomacy and working for peace receives only 3%. We clearly are dominated by militaristic thinking.

We need to change the way we think about national security rather than endlessly throwing more money at the Pentagon. How we think guides how we act. Bad thinking leads to bad policy which produces bad outcomes. Bad thinking produced the fiasco in Afghanistan and other places. Now it is fueling tragedy in Ukraine.

The real problems we face cannot be solved by military action. Pandemics, economic inequality, depletion of resources, environmental damage, crumbling public infrastructure and climate change have no military solutions. The biggest threat to the average American is job loss, an accident, or an illness.

National security involves much more than the capacity to wage war. The current system of national security based on military power has failed. It produces insecurity. To achieve real security nations must prepare in advance for peace. They must build the relationships, institutions, and international law needed to resolve conflicts peacefully. Nations must wage peace rather than war.

There are better ways to manage conflict than military intervention. World Beyond War has a comprehensive, practical plan to create an alternative system for global security. In the publication “A Global Security System: An Alternative to War,” they assert that for any nation to be truly secure, all countries must be secure. This “common security” requires building an alternative security system of demilitarized, non-provocative defense and international cooperation.

This is not an unrealistic dream. For over 100 years, nations have been moving toward common security through arms control agreements and cooperative organizations like the United Nations and the World Court. We just need to build on and expand these efforts.

Given the failure of our past militaristic thinking, William  Astore asks, “Honestly, isn’t it time Americans gave a little more thought to why their leaders persist in waging losing wars…Isn’t it time that the U.S. sought to invade and occupy a different “land” entirely: an undiscovered country — a future — defined by peace?”