It’s not just ‘Guns vs. Butter’

Does our massive military spending really make us safer?

by Kevin Martin

President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement is not just a disaster for addressing climate change, it is also detrimental to world peace. The Pentagon long ago determined climate change and its effects such as famine and drought help drive armed conflict—and are major factors in current wars in Africa and the Middle East.

Similarly, the president claims to be making progress on Middle East peace, yet honchoed a $110 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia, which uses U.S. armaments in the horrific war in Yemen. (The conflict there has the country on the brink of famine.) Either the president can’t connect these dots, or he is selling short-term extractive industries’ and weapons corporations’ interests as ‘American’ interests, when we need longer-term sustainability and peace in the U.S. and the global community.

More broadly, it’s a great time to ask if the government is investing our hard-earned tax dollars in the right priorities to make the U.S. and the world more secure. Do more bombs, guns, warships and missiles actually make us safer?

Most people would probably answer ‘yes’ to that question. However, the state of the world tells us otherwise. Trump proposed a Pentagon budget increase of $54 billion, which is more than the entire annual military budget of Russia or the UK. The U.S. accounts for about 40 percent of global military expenditures at over $600 billion per year, maintaining over 800 foreign military bases, the most sophisticated conventional military hardware ever created, and nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons.

A nuclear ‘modernization’ program begun under President Obama aims to spend at least $1 trillion over the next three decades to completely upgrade and overhaul the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Predictably, every other nuclear state has followed suit, announcing their own nuclear modernization plans, so this should properly be dubbed “The New Arms Race.”

Russia has for some time been more—rather than less—dependent on nuclear weapons for its security, and North Korea, sadly but predictably, sees its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent to the overwhelming military, economic and political power of the U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance. So it’s fair to ask if U.S. nuclear and conventional superiority encourages rather than deters nuclear proliferation, making Americans and the whole world less safe.

It isn’t just Russia and North Korea who maddeningly defy U.S. objectives in the world, but also various governments and armed movements in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and many other countries, as a cursory scan of the daily headlines shows us. Is adding even more military might supposed to magically change this equation? How will more nukes or submarines help defeat ISIS or al Qaeda?

At the same time as Trump proposes to add to Pentagon bloat (the Pentagon admits to having lost tens of billions of dollars and has never passed an audit), he advocates slashing spending on human needs in our communities and environmental programs. In the international security realm, his budget also guts funding for the State Department, United Nations World Food Program and U.S. Agency for International Development. These programs provide life-saving food and medical supplies to impoverished and war-torn countries, making the job of the U.S. military more difficult as poverty and climate change drive armed conflict in the developing world.

Trump, the self-styled ultimate deal-maker, ought to know diplomacy and development aid are far cheaper, safer and more effective at resolving conflict than building up and utilizing our considerable military might.

With the new, pro-diplomacy government of President Moon Jae-in in South Korea, Trump should support a peace deal with North Korea. Trump needn’t even take the lead on this; he could simply state his support for President Moon’s efforts to revive the “sunshine policy” toward the North.

As President Trump has admitted, some issues are more complicated than he thought when he took office. Korea isn’t necessarily as thorny as most think. China has proposed (and Pyongyang signaled support) for a freeze on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in exchange for a halt to U.S./South Korea war games.

In the words of Winston Churchill, ‘jaw jaw’ is better than ‘war war.’ Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have stated that “all options are on the table” (which includes using nuclear weapons) regarding North Korea, except the only good one: diplomacy. If Trump wants to live up to his maverick reputation, he should ignore the conventional wisdom that more guns will make us safer, and invest in smart, tough negotiations instead.

Kevin Martin is President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, www.peace-action.org. Based just outside Washington, D.C., Peace Action is the country’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization with 200,000 supporters nationwide, including affiliate member Nebraskans for Peace. Martin was in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island June 10-12 for events sponsored by NFP and other local organizations.

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