A Brief Observation of 21st Century Militarization in the United States

Based on a number of assessments, America’s military spending amounts to more than the military spending of the next nine countries combined. Despite the rise of China and the resurgence of Russia, there is no peer competitor alongside the United States in the realm of militarization. Also, according to the Watson Institute at Brown University, the United States spent approximately 6.5 trillion dollars on wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan since 2001, mostly on borrowed money from places like China that must now be paid back with interest. Yet, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars were financed to a large extent by “supplementary budgets” funded largely by undisclosed sources, which perhaps includes the Afghan drug trade.

            According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Department of Defense (DoD) saw its base budget grow from 384 billion dollars in the year 2000 to 502 billion dollars in 2014, which was an increase of about 31 percent and with an annual growth rate of almost 2 percent. CBO adds that spending on defense grew overall by 9 percent annually between 2000 and 2009. Currently, in the fiscal year covering the period between October 2020 and September 2021, military spending in the United States is estimated to be at around 934 billion dollars, up from 717 billion dollars allocated in the period between 2019 and 2020.

            Military spending is the largest spending item in the United States aside from social security. However, some independent estimates suggest that defense spending in the United States consists of approximately 70 to 80 percent of overall government spending. In 2018, the military budget of the United States accounted for 36 percent of global arms spending. America’s military budget in 2018 was 2.5 times larger than China’s military budget. There are around 800 American bases in foreign countries, compared to only one Chinese base in Djibouti.

While the American budget as a percentage of GDP has been declining over the last several years, the defense budget as a percentage of the overall budget has increased by at least five percentage points over the past two decades. However, over 2/3rds of the defense budget in the United States is believed to be allocated towards pensions and entitlements. Lawrence Korb, who was once an official at DoD, has argued that by the year 2039, the entire defense budget in the United States will be oriented towards pensions and entitlements.

All of this as GDP growth in the United States dropped from about 4.5 percent in 2000 to about 2.8 percent in 2020. Yet, President-elect Joe Biden has flirted with the idea of raising taxes, which would only exacerbate the adverse economic effects that stem from a decline in GDP growth. Moreover, while inflation and prices have increased, wages have either declined or remained stagnant over the same period, as shown by Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur and 2020 presidential candidate. This goes to show that most politicians as well as the state are simply out of touch with the realities on the ground, regardless of who is in charge.

Diplomacy can help to temper military spending to a certain degree and establish an equilibrium between defense spending and all other items. Yet, it seems unlikely that the United States will resort to diplomacy as a course of action anytime soon. For one, the United States has chosen to withdraw from the “Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty” (INF) with Russia and instead has opted to spend 1.6 trillion dollars over the next decade to “modernize” its nuclear arsenal as opposed to renewing and expanding the treaty. Moreover, the “New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty” (NEW Start) with Russia will expire in February 2021, without much willingness on the part of the United States to renew and expand the treaty.

Hyper-militarization and traversing a war path as a substitute for diplomacy and global cooperation has been an ongoing trend in the United States for a number of decades. As Ronan Farrow has shown in a book titled “War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence,” the budget for diplomacy and international affairs dropped by 30 percent in the 1990’s after the Cold War came to a close. As a result, on 9/11, the State Department was 20 percent short of staff. Farrow added that “old-school diplomacy was struggling to find purchase alongside not only the military domination of foreign policy but also the surveillance state that had evolved since 9/11” and that “face-to-face conversations had been steadily eclipsed by ‘signals intelligence’ or intercepted communications.”

In sum, the United States has been on a war path since the end of the Cold War and has fostered an “Orwellian State” without a clear rationale for such behavior, given the strategic context that is defined by “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) which in essence nullifies all-out war. Perhaps there is something that defense and intelligence officials know that civil society and lay intellectuals have missed. Nevertheless, it would be in the best interests of everyone if American government officials provided a clear rationale for why hyper-militarization and a war path have taken the place of diplomacy and global cooperation on transnational issues, despite the fact that the Cold War has been over for almost three decades.

Moreover, Afghanistan and Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, given that 9/11 was planned in Germany by a small group of individuals who had once been secular but were known to suffer from mental, legal, and relationship problems. Also, German and Israeli intelligence officials had informed CIA officials of the plot well in advance. Why the Bush Administration failed to act on this intelligence provided by German and Israeli intelligence officials is anyone’s guess. One thing is clear, however, which is that this type of social paradigm based on hyper-militarization and a war path for international affairs and relations when there is no clear rationale for such a paradigm is not only dangerous, but also unsustainable in the long run. If the coronavirus has taught us anything, it is that our plans seem great until we are hit with a pandemic.

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