There is no real reason for the US military's extremely high spending, so the military industrial complex has to invent one be reigniting the Cold War.
CNN recently published an article on its website in relation to Trump’s aggressive stance against NATO allies who have failed to meet the agreed spending target of 2% of GDP. The article includes two charts. The first chart shows spending among the NATO members as a percentage of GDP. This chart is directly related to the text of the article. It also addresses the issue that Trump (as prior Presidents had) raised at the NATO summit. The second chart shows total military expenditure for the top ten countries in the world. This second chart is highly illuminating and yet the article fails to address it at all. Hence there is an unwritten article that begs to be composed and published.
The US spending on military readiness dwarfs that of all nations worldwide. As many have stated before (yet surprisingly few have heard), the US spends roughly twice the amount of all the countries in the world combined. How can such levels of defense spending be justified? Why does Congress continue to approve huge budgets for military spending, while bemoaning the general trend in deficit spending? What is the rationale?
Before entertaining these questions, however, let’s briefly analyze two other details which raise bright red flags. Let’s reflect on the comparative levels of defense spending by Russia and China. Throughout the Cold War, US politicians vilified the Soviet Union and justified ever increasing defense spending as a bulwark against Soviet expansion. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, military spending in Russia has declined quite dramatically. Today, Russia spends far less than many other nations—less, in fact, than Saudi Arabia, according to CNN’s chart. Yet military leaders and the press continue to paint Russia as a major threat to the free world. Of course, Russia does still maintain a large nuclear arsenal. But given the condition of its economy and its oil dependence, Russia will evidently pose an ever decreasing threat.
China, on the other hand, has been dramatically increasing its defense spending. It is the only nation that even remotely looks as though it could conceivably challenge the US in the future. Prior to the NATO summit President Trump chastised Germany for its purchase of natural gas from Russia. He claimed Germany was thus enhancing Russian coffers, while Germany itself spent too little on its own defense. Is there an analogy here to the US trade deficit with China? The trade deficit enriches China, which appears to be the sole nation that might challenge the US. Both the President and the press talk about the trade deficit with China, but only in economic terms. They rarely, if ever, link the trade deficit to military concerns. In reality, as the chart clearly shows, neither China (at less than half of US defense spending) nor Russia in any way challenge US military expenditure.
The reality is that at past and current levels of military spending the US has no serious challenger. And yet the US continues to spend at ever increasing levels. Where is the peace dividend? Why shouldn’t it be possible for the US to reduce spending? Why are politicians and the press leading public opinion in the direction of new Cold War confrontations? What is the justification for spending policies?
The standard justifications for military spending are heard again and again. The US needs to ensure a heightened military readiness in order to maintain the status quo in world affairs, to protect its global interests, to defend democracy and open economies against the challenges to the global order and the international community. To that end there are endless warnings of threats from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and others. Yet the reality as anyone can see from the spending chart is that these threats are fallacious. The threat is hugely overblown.
A second line of justification following the 9/11 tragedy is the threat of terrorism. This subject is very complex and emotionally charged. But one point is clear. Terrorists don’t have a standing army that can threaten the US or its allies. The attacks on 9/11, in Paris and London, however appalling, cannot successfully undermine Western civilization. Furthermore, the style of military expenditure that the US continues to pursue is of little help in combating the spread of terrorism. The most serious potential threat from terrorism would be the capture of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials by terrorist groups or sympathizers. This scenario is frequently noted by supporters of military and intelligence readiness. It is a major argument in favor of a hard line stance against Iran and North Korea. But, action against those two nations selectively is wholly insufficient to counter a potential terrorist threat. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and it has a long border with a failed state (Afghanistan) as well as its own domestic terror groups. The US and NATO have a large cache of nuclear weapons in Turkey. And Turkey, given the direction of its domestic politics, could be at risk in the future. Hence, the effort to limit and secure nuclear weaponry from terrorist groups is in no way, shape or form comprehensive. Rather efforts are selective and taken solely against so called rogue nations.
Apparently neither of the typical justifications for military expenditure holds water. What then are the real reasons behind the incomparable levels of US military expenditure? Two come directly to mind. First, by continuing such levels of expenditure, the US is investing in the defense of its position as global hegemon. US citizens generally find this accusation baseless. They prefer to believe that the US is a beneficent power in world affairs. But numbers don’t lie. A well-meaning, beneficent power would not need such grossly incomparable levels of military expenditure. Dramatic reduction in spending (cashing a peace dividend) coupled with negotiations, diplomacy and soft power would certainly prove more effective.
The second reason is that irrational levels of expenditure are supported by the military industrial establishment. I find it odd that President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican and a man with a military background, warned against such a danger and yet few heeded his warning. But why does the US electorate fail to focus on the problem? The enormous power of large corporations is evident. The widespread activity of lobbyists is well known. What are lobbyists anyway, if not an institution of legalized corruption? Again, numbers don’t lie. In fact there can be no reasonable justification for the levels of military expenditure that the US sustains. I posit that even global domination could be supported at lower levels of expenditure. But, of course, lower expenditure levels would mean lower corporate profits for the defense industry.