America’s Militarized Foreign Policy Threatens Americans
Last Friday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted the confirmation hearing for Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s pick for Secretary of State. Pompeo’s history of uninformed remarks–including the possibility of regime change in North Korea and a potential first strike–raise concerns about his ability to be the nation’s top diplomat. This appointment represents the latest blow to diplomacy under this administration. It also raises the larger question about the increasing minimization of diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy.
Earlier this year, President Trump released his budget proposal for FY 2019. In it, we learn that the State Department will lose nearly a third of its annual budget this year. Peacekeeping initiatives, conflict mitigation programs, and thousands of jobs will be eliminated. Simultaneously, the Department of Defense budget will grow to accommodate nearly 60,000 new troops and over fifty new naval ships in the next five years. The proposed budget for national defense in 2019 is $716 billion—a $77 billion increase from the requested 2018 defense budget.
It’s time to halt the Pentagon’s spending spree, curb the government’s aversion to diplomacy, and end the militarization of American foreign policy. The growing defense budget increases the risk of war and gives priority to military approaches over diplomatic resolutions to conflict. The U.S. needs to reduce defense spending and redirect funds to unmet human needs.
The proposed defense budget marks the second year in a row of a 10% increase in U.S. defense spending. After Social Security, the defense budget is the largest expenditure in the federal budget. The continued increase in defense spending comes at a high cost. Cuts to State Department funding, for example, mean the U.S. will have fewer peacekeeping programs, experts, and representatives on the international stage when a global crisis breaks out. This change in budget priorities leaves the United States with fewer diplomatic options and more military responses to conflict.
Cutting funding to diplomatic efforts increases the risk of deadly conflict and reinforces the American war industry. Even Secretary of Defense James Mattis acknowledges that cutting diplomatic efforts contributes to conflict. In 2013, he testified before Congress saying, “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately…The more that we put into the state department’s diplomacy, hopefully the less we have to put into a military budget…” The excessive defense budget supports new weapons systems, more personnel, and increased combat equipment. These systems of destruction and war reinforce the American mindset that armed conflict is the primary tool to address disputes. Cutting the defense budget provides an opportunity to break this cycle of war–redirecting funds to diplomatic and domestic endeavors will create a cycle of progress and prosperity.
Decreasing the defense budget will change the dialogue of domination in which U.S. foreign policy is increasingly conducted. Why does this matter? Redirecting military spending toward opportunities for communication—especially with our adversaries—lessens the risk of misunderstandings that could result in a catastrophic war. Additionally, reallocating defense funds to domestic investments like healthcare, clean energy, and education creates more American jobs. These changes make Americans safer and fund domestic needs that will improve this country.
Internationally, a shift from defense to diplomacy signals security to allies and adversaries. Minimizing militarization reduces the threat felt by adversaries like Russia, China, and North Korea. The United States’ penchant for military action abroad creates tension that extends beyond a single region–like North Korea’s concerns following the recent U.S.-led strike on Syria. Diplomatic initiatives instead create opportunity to have an open dialogue about intentions, cooperation, and mutual security. Allies also benefit: American adversaries who are not on high alert pose less of a risk to NATO countries and neighbors. Countering the trend of American aggression sets the stage for peaceful discourse and provides the chance for international collaboration and growth.
Some argue that reducing military investment puts the lives of American soldiers and civilians at risk, but this is simply not the case. It is the United States’ military approach to foreign policy that endangers those very lives. Decreasing military spending decreases the role of the armed forces in conflict resolution, exposing fewer lives to the dangers of armed conflict. Increasing funding to the State Department increases the chances of diplomatic resolutions to conflict, ensuring American lives and materiel stay safe.
Reducing the defense budget will reduce the risk of war. Increasing funds for human needs will increase the quality of American life and improve U.S. foreign relations. It is time to end the American predilection for war. It is time to demand change from our elected officials. It is time to take action to advance global peace and justice.