The projected reductions in Defense spending that President Obama announced last week represent good news for peacemakers. Wasteful, excessive spending on the military provides society with no real benefits beyond the political- military-industrial complex.
Unnecessary spending on armed forces deprives a nation of the opportunity to employ those resources in more constructive, productive ways while increasing the likelihood of war. At least three dynamics support the latter. First, unnecessary armaments often trigger arms races in which many peoples and nations lose, especially in an arms race between China and the United States. Second, the more weapons a nation has, and the larger its military, the greater the temptation to look for military solutions to international problems that other approaches might better address. Third, the more a nation spends on defense, the greater the implied pressure to utilize its armed forces. Otherwise, why continue to spend all of that money on the military, especially in an era of severe fiscal constraints?
The idea that the United States should be ready to fight two major ground wars at the same time dates back to WWII, when the U.S. engaged both Japan and Nazi Germany. Today, that standard is well past its “sell by” date. Indeed, a more prescient question is whether the U.S. will ever fight any major ground wars again. The 2003 conquest of Iraq may be the last major ground war; the U.S. conquered Afghanistan primarily using air and special operations forces. As both conquests have demonstrated, conquest is easy; occupation is extremely difficult against determined foes that rely on guerilla and terror strategies and tactics.
A land war with China seems highly improbable: they lack the resources to invade the U.S.; the U.S. lacks the numerical strength in its armed forces to conquer and then to occupy China. Nuclear deterrence by both the U.S. and China make such a land war unwinnable by either side. (Cf. Ethical Musings, Is China Now A Threat?)
Military capacities the U.S. needs to maintain for realistic defense requirements include
· Nuclear deterrence (important as the number of countries with nuclear weapons continues to grow)
· Power projection to ensure international stability, the flow of commerce, and security of allies (who should share a large burden of the cost of doing this)
· Strong special operations capabilities with which to respond to international terrorism and other asymmetric threats.
Obama’s plan seeks to focus U.S. military spending on those goals (cf. Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense).
Lawrence Korb, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense from 1981-1985 and senior fellow at the American Center for Progress, believes that the reductions will not diminish U.S. national security because of mismanagement within the Department of Defense and procurement of unneeded weapons systems and military capabilities. (“Why Panetta’s Pentagon Cuts Are Easier Than You Think,” Foreign Affairs, January 4, 2012; Ethical Musings, Swords into Plows)
Global peace will not arrive in the twinkling of an eye, a hope that has more to do with Santa Claus than with building peace in our broken world. Building peace is hard work, accomplished one-step at a time. Actively supporting Obama’s plan, regardless of whether one endorses him for reelection, is a step that peacemakers can and should take. Refuting the inevitable clarion calls for more defense spending and arguing against procurement of expensive, unneeded weapons systems are two more steps that peacemakers can and should take.