Analyzing America's Increased Military Budget By Michael McCarthy
President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request for United States Military exceeded even what the Pentagon’s leadership requested. It was so high that the U.S. Congress had to modify the Budget and Control Act of 2011 that placed a limit on military spending.
The budget is $639 billion, $52 billion over the defense budget cap. The 2019 Defense Budget continues the higher spending, while the State Department, our nation’s primary diplomatic service, faces steep budget cuts.
This military spending can be seen through several lens:
Politically, President Trump is appealing to his conservative base with increased military spending.
Strategically, President Trump is staffing and equipping the military to continue combat operations in Afghanistan and prepare for other military operations, perhaps with North Korea, Russia, or ISIS.
Cynically, President Trump is merely a member of the military-industrial complex and the increased spending secures donors for his 2020 campaign.
Realistically, it is a combination of all these reasons and we will never know- at least we will never know until the Trump Presidential Library opens and his oval office discussions are declassified.
The military’s budget might feel justified given the ongoing war in Afghanistan (our nation’s longest war at 17 years and counting), the threat of nuclear war from North Korea, the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, the rise of China’s military capability, and continued instability in the Middle East including a nuclear armed Iran, continued Palestinian and Israeli unrest, as well as the heightened tension between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
At the same time, the expanded military budget might be unjustified because of the need for investment America’s crumbling infrastructure, lagging education (both K-12 and secondary schools), and divested diplomatic services, among other underfunded areas.
Often I wonder if increasing the military’s budget is the path of least resistance, the easy way out. Follow me here. Diplomacy is hard to do, it takes a long time, and often proves fragile. Carefully built agreements (and dare I say it, trust) can be upended with a new leader or unforeseen event (think September 11th).
It is easy to point to more planes, tanks, and troops but it hard to show timely diplomatic progress. Besides the tangible benefits of military spending, it has the added benefit of perpetuating our belief that we are the most powerful country on earth. This “we’re number one” feeling with regard to our military dominates our consciousness since our shared victory in World War II.
For several generations, politicians and the American People supported a large standing military as part of the military-industrial complex. Perhaps it is time to invest in a significant portion of the military’s budget in a diplomatic-industrial complex to find alternative solutions to our foreign policy problems.
The world’s most funded military enables our nation’s leaders to find military solutions for most problems (classic example of the Law of the Instrument: if you only have a hammer, all your problems look like nails). The military should be considered perhaps a part of the solution, but definitely not the solution.
There is a path that enables balance between spending on military and spending on diplomacy. It is not a zero-sum game. Each of these levers of power are critical and offer different solutions, neither is simple nor tidy.
With the all-volunteer military always available, we allow ourselves to proceed to quickly into conflict. There is hope; perhaps President’s Trumps plans to meet with North Korea’s leader might open his eyes to the power of diplomacy.
Michael McCarthy is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of Data Science at Utica College.