U.S. and World Politics

U.S. Military Spending Threatens More War 

By Barry Sheppard

With overwhelming support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the new 2019 budget for the military, beginning October 1, is a 13 percent increase over 2017, and is even more than what Trump had proposed.

The U.S. spends more on its armed forces than China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Britain, France and Japan combined, according to the United Nations. About 17 percent of the $4 trillion overall budget goes to the military.

The official figure for next year is $716 billion. There are additional funds for the military hidden in spending by other federal departments, including the CIA, and the real figure inches toward $1 trillion, according to the Washington Post.

A dangerous aspect is that there will be billions in new investments in nuclear weapons research and new nuclear warheads, including so-called “tactical” smaller bombs designed for the battlefield, not cities, making them more likely to be used. But any such use could easily get out of hand and spiral into a full-blown nuclear war.

This program, euphemistically called “modernization” of the nuclear arsenal, was started by the Obama administration, and was to cost $1 trillion over ten years. The new military budget continues and expands the program.

We should remember that it was the U.S. that first developed the atom bomb, and was the first to use it twice in 1945 against cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing hundreds-of-thousands immediately and many more from radiation-induced cancers in the years since and is the only country to use them.

The use of these weapons, many military experts have said, was unnecessary to end the U.S.-Japan inter-imperialist war. Japan was already defeated. What Washington wanted to demonstrate was its willingness to use such weapons against civilians if it wanted to do so, a monstrous threat against the other nations of the world.

Its immediate purpose was to threaten the USSR, as Washington prepared to turn away from its wartime alliance with the Soviet Union to active hostility. The U.S., with diplomatic help from Britain, completed this turn by 1947, and set the USSR in its sights. While the development of the bomb by the Soviet Union blocked any dreams by the U.S. of a quick atomic attack, the nuclear arms race was on. The madness of “Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD)” became the norm throughout the Cold War. 

The U.S. contemplated using the bomb in the Korean War, and directly threatened to do so in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, and in the 1973 Israeli-Arab war. Fortunately, there were cooler heads in Washington during the Korean War, and in the Kremlin in 1962 and 1973 that defused these threats.

After the Second World War, Congress ceded its Constitutional obligation to decide whether to go to war to the executive branch. The last time Congress declared war was in 1941. One aspect was to cede to one person, the President, the sole authority to launch atomic war. Trump once mused that if the U.S. has nuclear weapons, why not use them?

Wherever the President goes, he is accompanied by an aide who carries the “football”—a briefcase with the codes to unleash such a horrific event—a danger that has been brought closer by the decision to build the “tactical” nuclear weapons, which will relaunch the nuclear arms race, as other nations try to keep up.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which since the age of the bomb began, has printed on its cover a “doomsday clock” with a hand pointing how close we are to midnight. In the light of this recent development set in motion first by Obama, it has moved that hand closer to 12.

Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a general relaxation of the fear of atomic war. That sentiment is now obsolete.

Another aspect of ceding warmaking powers to the executive has been the many wars, some hot and some covert, the U.S. has been waging since 1945. These include the seemingly endless wars in the Mideast we are living through.

Another aspect of the new military budget is additional “emergency” funding tagged for “overseas contingency operations,” meaning just such wars. The budget sets asides funds for new ones down the line.

The “Defense” Department was accurately named the Department of War until the end of the Second World War. The U.S. has not waged a defensive war since the war of 1812 against the British. I’ll use the term War Department.

The increase in military spending in the new budget has been advocated by the War Department in recent years. “Our regional competitors in the Pacific and Europe have been studying our strengths and our vulnerabilities for more than a decade,” Major General Paul A. Chamberlain said in February. “Their modernization efforts are slowly eroding our competitive advantage, and this budget request addresses that, by providing the necessary resources to ensure the Army’s superiority.”

“It is incumbent upon us to field a more lethal forces if our nation is to retain the ability to defend ourselves and what we stand for,” War Secretary Jim Mattis said in outlining a new national war strategy in July.

That new strategy states that “inter-state strategic competition,” especially with China and Russia, and “not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.”

This new strategy is rooted in the recognition that the old “world order” that ensured U.S. domination has eroded, and U.S. imperialism faces new challenges in a changing world. Obama tried to get out of the Middle East region with his “pivot to Asia [meaning China]” but couldn’t do both. Mattis now supports a larger military footprint in Afghanistan while simultaneously preparing for conflict with China and Russia.

This has repercussions with both Koreas. Military analysts are saying that the U.S. must keep its troops and bases in South Korea as part of its aggressive stance toward China.

The bipartisan support for the military spending in the new bill is indicated by two quotes. “The Budget Agreement,” Trump tweeted, “gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great.”

The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, called the new budget a “win for the American people.”

However, Trump objected to non-spending aspects of the new law. When signing the bill Trump decreed that 50 provisions unconstitutionally encroached on his prerogatives as “Commander in Chief and as the sole representative of the Nation in foreign affairs.”

In recent decades, beginning with Ronald Reagan, such “signing statements” have been used by presidents to circumvent Congress, and amount to declarations that the provisions they object to will not be enforced. This is part of ceding power to the executive.

Apparently, Congress inserted provisions in the budget law to assert some authority over the President in conducting foreign policy, which Trump has in effect nullified.

While such signing statements are not new, Trump’s use of them in this instance are part of his drive to establish an authoritarian regime of the type we have seen in Hungary and Poland, which is new. This deserves fuller discussion.