The Military and Militarism in U.S. Foreing Policy




Robert Matthews is an adjunct professor at the Graduate Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University and a senior fellow at the Centro de Investigación para la Paz ( ) in Madrid. He has written on Latin American social movements, US policy in Latin America and the Third World, and low intensity conflicts.



As we write in 2004, the U.S. is currently spending about 16 billion on foreign aid and $450 billion on military outlays. The influence of the U.S. military in U.S. foreign policy is still predominant but it is no longer quite so obviously in the ascendant. Nor does the "empire" look so solid as a year ago. The looming debacle in Iraq has exposed the weaknesses of the "new reformed military" showcased in Iraq and now exposed for it's limitations. Indeed, the very incompetence of the Department of Defense (DOD) headed by Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come into question.
Emblematic of the problem is that a year after Bush announced an end to major combat behind a banner reading "Mission Accomplished," the U.S. is ordering thousands of armored vehicles, including 70-ton Abrams tanks, to Iraq. Nevertheless, some experts continue to characterize U.S. foreign policy as the most militarized of any country since the Second World War. Certainly in terms of expenditures the Pentagon's budget is unprecedented and eclipses even the combined total of the next ten countries behind it.
In fact, after September 1, 2001, the early 20th century notion of gunboat diplomacy has been twisted to the point where-- gunboats trumped diplomacy consistently-- at least until recent chastening events in Iraq produced a reappraisal. In fact, the U.S. global reach is not so much an empire in the classic sense but a global garrison state. As Tom Engelhardt puts it "our particular version of military empire is perhaps unique: all "gunboats, no colonies."

And today's gunboats are expensive. The DOD maintains that the only real military threats to the U.S. derive from either 1) the potential use of nuclear weapons or 2) what the Pentagon calls, "asymmetrical warfare"; i.e., the tactical use of terrorism to confront superior military power. The war on terror declared in 2001, triggered a reversal of the cutbacks seen in the 1990s in the Pentagon's budget and a surge in spending to record levels. It is almost as if the administration's motto became: "so many enemies, so little time." It seems daily more apparent now that the U.S. government is spreading terrorism by a counterproductive foreign policy. What is indisputable is that terrorism is increasing.

This pessimistic outlook is shared by the Bush administration and provides the rationale for its military budget this year. The current budget of $363 billion itself is more than ten times that of the country in second place in military spending: Great Britain. The Bush administration's request for 2004-2005 represents the biggest increase in Pentagon spending in twenty years. This increase alone, $38 billion plus a $10 billion "war reserve" fund, would add more money than any other country currently spends on its military. The expansion of military funding for the foreseeable future-- $451 billion by 2007 and $2.7 trillion on the military over the next six years-- is historically unprecedented and contributes to the record government deficit which is approaching 500 billion annually.
The current appropriations request include the development of long-range missile defenses, long promoted by Rumsfeld; it does not include the supplemental military budget for Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism. The Pentagon refuses to put a figure on the next request-- sure to come after the elections in November-- but there are rumors of an amount between $60 billion to $95 billion in one or more supplemental appropriations to cover the estimated 105,000 and 150,000 troops remain in the country through 2005. The original estimates of double or triple that number of troops needed by General Anthony Zinny and Eric Shinseki, which were so publicly disdained by the DOD, now look prophetic. Shinseki, then Army chief of staff, was denounced by Rumsfeld and pushed into early retirement for his trouble. The special supplement for Iraq alone this year was 87 billion and is now costing nearly $5 billion a month, claiming it cannot determine the scope or cost of these circumstantial operations.

A large portion of the budget is dedicated to creating and sustaining a vast global network of military and intelligence bases-- more than seven hundred in all. The U.S. currently maintains bases in Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. In the Pacific on Okinawa, a small island which can be driven around in a couple of hours, we have 38 bases. Neoconservatives in Bush's Defense Department were eager to reform the basing policy to create a more flexible, mobile entity which could respond rapidly or "forward deploy" U.S. forces into any situation emerging in the "arc of instability" extending from the Balkans south to Northern Africa and east to the Chinese border. Not incidentally, this theater also includes regions rich in oil and natural gas. The Pentagon believes that during the 1990s the U.S. had to prepare for fighting two wars simultaneously -- presumably in the Middle East and Northeast Asia-- while in he post 9-11 world, we must prepare for four.
New military facilities in, for example, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and Qatar will constitute a series of "lily pads" for launching quick attacks and preemptive interventions. Bases were established in Saudi Arabia and the small Gulf emirates after our first Gulf War in 1991; the occupation of Islam's holy sites became one of the stated reasons for Al Qaeda's attack on the U.S. September 11. The process of base creation accelerated under Bush, including several in Pakistan and the Central Asian republics of the former Soviet Union after the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Iraq is slated for up to fourteen permanent U.S. bases -- what the Pentagon quaintly calls "enduring camps"--to allow the U.S. military to scale back its presence in Saudi Arabia. But for the foreseeable future the military will control the entire country anyway.

The U.S. currently has some 480,000 men and women in the armed forces with one third of US active duty combat troops in Iraq. Apart from distracting from the real war on terrorism and alienating a good part of the globe (it is safe to say that there has never been greater world-wide mistrust and dislike of the U.S. government), the war in Iraq has dangerously stretched U.S. military capabilities. The New York Times noted in a December 29, 2003, editorial that this military overstretch has pushed "peacetime armed forces toward their limits; if a sudden crisis were to erupt in North Korea or Afghanistan the U.S . would be hard-pressed to respond." The editorial added that the White House must recognize that its unilateralism is debilitating the Army and it must "change course before the damage becomes harder to undo."
Iraq has distorted U.S. foreign and military policy in more ways than one. James Fallows, in the April 2004 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, says that "it is only a slight exaggeration to say that today the entire U.S. military is either in Iraq, returning from Iraq, or getting ready to go." National Guard or Army Reserves, many of whom enlisted for educational benefits and never dreamed when they did that they would be fighting a fierce and growing insurgency in Iraq, constitute forty per cent of the troops deployed there.

In Africa the U.S. is currently dedicating 1 billion dollars in development aid for the entire continent, one-twentieth of what it is spending in Iraq for economic and infrastructural development. Moreover, since late 2003, the U.S. has been dispatching Special Forces troops to Mauritania, Chad, Mali and Niger as part of the Pan Sahel Initiative, designed to train the region's militaries in anti-terrorism. The U.S. has ratcheted up military cooperation with Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as well. The ostensible reason is to reinforce the region's efforts against terrorism. But behind the moves is the mounting interest in Africa's oil reserves including many new and substantial discoveries and pressure from industry and conservative ideologues to capture and protect energy sources outside the Middle East.

In Asia the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program looms as a real military problem for the U.S. unlike the manufactured problem in Iraq. In the past two years Pyongyang revealed a previously clandestine uranium enrichment program. The regime also began preparations to restart a nuclear reactor plant to extract plutonium at Yongbyon which violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. and other agreements with the US. Experts estimate that it may have as many as eight nuclear bombs at present.
Notwithstanding its tough rhetoric about cracking down on weapons of mass destruction, Washington is playing a delaying game in negotiating with the regime of Kim Jong Il. The U.S. has over one hundred military bases and 40,000 troops in South Korea. But it is surrounded by what is arguably the most anti-American democracy on earth today and time is not on the U.S. side. And while the clock ticks, the nuclear bombs accumulate. The administration is hoping for the best when the talks resume May. But then hope is a not a substitute for serious policy.

In Latin America the emphasis on military solutions and strengthening military to military relations is quite pronounced. For the past three years counterterrorism has played the central role that anticommunism did during the cold war in defining U.S.-Latin American relations. For example, right after 9-11, Secretary of State Colin Powell went to Colombia and said that it no longer made any sense to insist on separating the drug war in Colombia from the war on terrorism because narcotics and terrorism were linked as threats to democracy. Under "Plan Colombia" that country receives the third largest amount of U.S. aid, after Israel and Egypt. Most is destined for the military. The U.S. also has over 1,000 soldiers and military contractors in Colombia. In April, despite Congressional concern for an overstretched military, General Hill testified to the need for doubling the "troop cap" in Colombia to 800 military personnel and 600 civilian contractors.

Even before September 11, 2001, U.S. foreign policy was driven by Pentagon security concerns rather than any comprehensive social and economic agenda of the State Department. Afterward, the war on terrorism became the organizing principle, political rallying cry of the administration, and the handmaiden of a U.S. dominated global order.
Yet Al Qaeda has generated more terrorist attacks in the 30 months since 9-11 than in the previous decade. And there is every reason to anticipate that the world will see more terrorism as we increasingly sink into the two quagmires that we have created in Afghanistan and Iraq. This war is being waged as a conventional military operation ignoring the complexity of the problem of terrorism and the need for a multifaceted approach that considers its root causes as well as the need for precise measures to combat its immediate threat. In the meantime the war in Iraq has dangerously diverted attention and resources from a real war on terror as well as the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. Should a crisis materialize there, the U.S. military would be sorely tested to respond.
The main elements of current US policy are consonant with Bush's world view. U.S. budgets are skewed toward military operations but is in short supply to aid the ravaged economies in many troubled regions or to address the social and economic conditions that spawn frustration, anger and terrorism in the developing world. Military projection and military solutions are given a high priority for regional conflicts. Collateral damage from Washington's military unilateralism, clumsy diplomacy and militaristic foreign policy is reflected in an historic display of antiamericanism across the globe and an unprecedented antagonism toward U.S. policies by foreign leaders and media. These repercussions as in addition to the actual costs in blood and treasure for the U.S. have yet to be fully calculated or understood.


New York, USA

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