Ruminations on national ‘defense’

Phil Anderson


“We are racing toward a trillion-dollar military budget that tolerates and encourages mind-blowing waste, rewards military-industrial complex political spending with unfathomably large contracts – and fails to address priority national security needs,” Robert Weissman of Public Citizen

Americans are irrationally obsessed with national “defense.” We have the most powerful, best equipped, most technologically advanced and most expensive military in the world. We spend more on defense then the next 10 military powers in the world combined (and most of those ten are our allies). For eight decades more than half of our national disposable income (the annual discretionary budget) has been consumed by “defense.”

The Pentagon budget is not only huge but increases every year regardless of the actual state of the world. It goes up regardless of which party is in power. It goes up regardless of who gets elected to Congress. The upcoming Pentagon budget is expected to be $858 billion – $45 billion more than President Biden requested, $100 billion more than Trump’s highest budget and $250 billion more than in Obama’s last budget.

Since WW2 all our major military engagements have been “wars of choice” against people on the other side of the world who were not a threat to our safety, freedom or national security. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan never had the capacity or the intention to attack us. But we had to muck around in their countries creating conflict, killing millions and expending trillions to accomplish absolutely nothing except our own defeat.

We have not been invaded by a foreign country since the War of 1812. We are protected by two oceans, the world’s longest peaceful border to the north and a southern border with a third world country with virtually no military capacity. In fact no country in the world has the military or logistical capacity to invade – much less conquer – the United States.

Despite these facts we persist in seeing threats to national security everywhere. We constantly manufacture “enemies” to hype the fear of foreign economic, ideological, or military adversaries. The latest is China. China is the factory supplying a huge portion of all our consumer goods. Picking a fight with a major trading partner is not going to turn out well.

So why do we continue with this obvious folly? We know the Pentagon is hugely wasteful. We know the military-industrial complex is powerful and has bought most of the politicians. We know many other important needs go begging because of unnecessary military spending. But the waste continues year after year after year. Why?

The Pentagon has a miserable record for winning recent wars. We lost in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. But they have been very successful at bamboozling the American people. We believe it all is necessary. We believe that war secured our freedom and keeps us safe. We have a warped understanding of what is actually needed for defense and national security.

William Astore, a retired Air Force officer and historian, has written that our military posture is offensive rather than defensive. It is intended to dominate the rest of the world rather than protect the homeland. In a Nation magazine article he asks, “What would a real system of American national defense look like?” (“We Need to Scale Back America’s War Machine” July 30. 2021). His answer is:

• A much smaller military consisting of a Coast Guard, the National Guard, and a few Army divisions. The current 2.4 million force should be cut in half.
• We wouldn’t need aircraft carriers, or a navy and air force with global reach
• These forces would be stationed at home not in 800 worldwide locations
• The budget would be cut in half
• Its mission would not be “full spectrum dominance” or the ability to fight two wars at once on opposite sides of the world
• Nuclear weapons would be abolished rather than spending $2 trillion on rebuilding our nuclear arsenal and delivery systems
In short he says, “we need to imagine a world in which we as Americans are no longer the foremost merchants of death, in which we don’t imagine ourselves as the eternal global police force...while leaving behind both our imperial wars and domestic militarism.”
We do not understand that national security involves much more than weapons and troops. Diplomacy and good relationships with our neighbors is more important. Yet we spend only 3% of the annual budget on promoting these relationships.
Our clinging to nuclear weapons is a prime example of this bad thinking. Nuclear weapons are the epitome of waste. They have no military worth because we can not use them. Their value as a deterrent to nuclear war is questionable. We somehow avoided nuclear holocaust in the past but the danger was always there. Even if deterrence did prevent a nuclear war, it is a very risky, dangerous gamble for the future. We were never “safe” and never will be as long as nukes exist.

Today we have the pathway to finally abolish these awful weapons. It is the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). Eighty nine nations have signed the treaty and 66 have ratified it. But the United States refuses to sign the treaty and is actively working to pressure other countries to do the same. Our country is the major obstacle to the success of this treaty and to a safer, more stable, more peaceful world.

In order to have real national security we must get serious about abolishing nuclear weapons and reducing the huge cost and size of our excessive military capability. We must divert resources from fighting war to waging peace.
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The Golden Rule Project is coming to the Twin Ports September 8 through 11 to advocate for the treaty. Public events include presentations at:
• The UMD Alworth Institute, Thursday, noon to 1 pm
• Peace Church, Friday 6:30 to 8 pm
• A forum discussion at the Unitarian Congregation, Sunday, 9:30 to 10:30 am
• There will be a table at the Harvest Festival, Bayfront Park, Saturday 10 am-4 pm. Admission is free to the festival.
Come out to learn more and support local efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.