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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1591

Austere economics quells belligerence in US foreign policy

Critical commentary by Philip Fernando

Belligerence, the hard core component of US foreign policy seemed swamped by austere economics affecting Philip_Fernando_2.jpga war-weary populous. The use of military muscle by instinct and proclivity has lost its lure. The axe will begin to fall on defense expenditure. The battle in the House has just begun.

Here is a bird’s eye view of the current US defiance demeanor. According to the latest budget proposals, the military will need to swallow $350 billion in cuts over the next decade. The cuts will be in the area of $35 billion to $50 billion a year or "6% to 8% of the military's $570 billion projected budget for fiscal 2013. The fiscal year 2012 defense budget had so far dropped roughly $92 billion below the proposed FY 2011 level. This downward slicing seemed the most important factor contributing to a lowered defense outlay as a percentage of GDP.

Comparatively, USA’s defense spending amounted to 3.9 percent of the GDP, UK, India and South Korea 2.8 and China 2.1 in 2010. The recent campaign rhetoric in USA made candidates of both parties look complaint with the perennial hawkish lament that American security was sacrosanct and must be defended at all cost. Harsh economic conditions made that appear prohibitive.

Changing public opinion

Bellicosity has mellowed since Obama’s electoral success. A CNN poll found that 29 percent of Republican voters would favor defense cuts as part of a debt ceiling deal. Independent and Democratic voters differ: 50 and 56 percent of them favor defense cuts, respectively. That number may be on an upward spiral among both Republicans and Democrats now.

However, there are major constraints that led to the past boorish military outlook still lingering among the hawks. First, the overarching post 9/11 notion of America being perennially under terrorist threats had spawned a de-facto Right-wing concurrence towards belligerence. It had subverted critical thinking in US foreign policy analysis. Two wars were financed way beyond the country’s means. The initial legitimacy of outrage caused by over 3,000 brutalities perpetrated at Twin Towers was debauched by the ill-advised Iraqi invasion under the phony search for WMDs.

Second, the proliferation of defence expenditure continued spurred on by denouncements labeling any attempt to cut military spending as anti-national draconian ploys. Presidents of either party faced the unenviable task of vanquishing such irrational fear-mongering.

Third, to make matters worse, US elections come every two years to elect 438 House members and one-third Senate or 33 Senators. The campaign season is longer than 12 months. The Primaries often are nothing but a re-instatement of hardened Right-wing rhetoric. The cycle goes unchecked. There is a small window to deviate from such a quagmire during the first year of office of a new president—we are witnessing one of those rare moments now.

The austere economics affecting most of Europe and USA are perhaps are driving the debate as never before. The time not to be strapped to an always running rage machine is now.

Military industrial complex

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th US President, in his Farewell Address, on January 17, 1961 warned of the growing military industrial complex. Political campaigns are virtual access routs for defence actors to make hay when the sun shines. Profits at the big five U.S.-based defense contractors -- Lockheed Martin (LMT), Boeing (BA), Northrop Grumman (NOC), General Dynamics (GD) and Raytheon (RTN) -- grew from $6.7 billion in 2001 to $24.8 billion in 2010. Profits grew twice as fast as revenue.

And it's not just the pure-play defense contractors who benefitted. Large conglomerates, like General Electric (GE), foreign defense firms, like BAE systems, and large construction firms, like KBR (KBR), also saw their profits jump significantly during that time thanks to all the defense spending.

Wall Street has rewarded the industry. Defense companies in the S&P 500 have seen their stock prices soar 67% in the last decade, while most other industries are flat or up just a few percentage points. But stock prices have started to come down on anticipation of the spending cuts.

Eisenhower’s warning is being heeded at long last. “[The] conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. ...In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Three areas of debate

The rationale surrounding the fiery debate is that while acknowledging a significant level of risk in world affairs, national security commitments and defense resources allocation must not bankrupt the nation.

Manpower levels: The Obama Administration would set military manpower levels, across the active and reserve components, at 2,252,200 persons by the end of FY 2011. Manpower levels would drop to a 2 million armed force by 2020. Consensus is now being built round such levels.

Modernization: Reduction in investments in new-generation technologies in its core defense program. Modernization funding is the combination of the research, development, test, and evaluation account and the procurement account. In the core defense budget, the Obama Administration is proposed the reduction of research, development, test, and evaluation funding by 5 percent ($4 billion in current dollars) from FY 2010 to FY 2011.

While it increased procurement funding by 7.7 percent, sustaining procurement increases of this magnitude under the longer-term core defense budget—a major task. Obama budget called for $189 billion in modernization funding for FY 2011 under the core budget proposal, and the FY 2015 core defense budget could result in a similar level of modernization funding. In reality, modernization accounts would lose ground to inflation over the five-year period.

An inability to guarantee access to space:

According to a recent report, the U.S. has a good success rate as a space-faring nation--during the Cold War access to space for military, civil, and commercial purposes was guaranteed. As a result, the U.S. has become heavily dependent on space assets, particularly for military and commercial purposes. The military depends on space assets for communication, navigation, early warning, battle damage assessment, and intelligence purposes. The commercial sector uses space for broadcasting, conducting financial transactions, supporting transportation, and expanding communications.

The challenge faced by US is to work within the scaffold of a number of potentially hostile states obtaining asymmetric space capabilities. These include the means to destroy or disrupt U.S. space-based assets. Therefore, the idea being canvassed is that it is imperative for the US military to obtain operationally responsive space capabilities and offensive and defensive counter-space systems, both to protect its own advantageous position in space and to guard civil and commercial space assets.

Obtaining these space capabilities and systems would be quite expensive. It is doubtful that the Administration's core military modernization budget could accommodate these kinds of expenditures. The Administration may be recognizing this fact insofar as it plans to participate in negotiations at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on a draft treaty that will purportedly protect U.S. military, civilian, and commercial space systems. Republicans have voiced concerns that it would be delusional to believe that pieces of paper, in lieu of real military capabilities, will protect vital U.S. interests in space.

- Asian Tribune -

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