by Kevin Martin
This month, as budget and policy issues in Washington muddle along inconclusively as usual, grassroots peace activists are busy organizing, educating, protesting and lobbying.
Last weekend, Historians Against the War hosted an ambitious, illuminating conference at Towson University north of Baltimore on “The New Faces of War” with speakers and participants examining rapidly-changing foreign and domestic policies.
Anti-Nuclear activists will converge on Washington next week for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability’s D.C. Days, for strategizing, training and lobbying on nuclear weapons, power, waste and cleanup issues.
Around the country, peace and social justice organizers will convene local actions on Tax Day, April 15, to educate taxpayers on the country’s skewed budget priorities that favor the Pentagon over human and environmental needs. This year, April 15 is also the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, with activities around the world and in over 30 U.S. states drawing attention to the world’s addiction to militarism and exorbitant “defense” budgets. If you can’t organize or attend a Tax Day event, you can still join our Thunderclap “It’s Our Tax Day, Not Theirs” online social media action.
The prestigious, independent Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) will release its annual report on world military expenditures on Monday, which will show the United States continues to spend over 40% of the world’s $1.7 trillion annually allocated to weapons and war. Randy Schutt of Cleveland Peace Action put together an impressive article titled Our Tax Dollars are off the War – 2013 edition on Daily Kos with charts, graphs and citations comparing U.S. military spending to the rest of the world, and to domestic spending, which serves as a nice complement to the upcoming SIPRI report.
Lastly, an impressive national coalition has come together to organize days of action throughout the month to stop U.S. drone warfare.
All these actions focus on crucial issues, and they come at a time when there is hope not just to impact those specific policies, but when a confluence of events give us an opportunity not seen in at least a decade to fundamentally question the mission and role of the U.S. military in both domestic and foreign policy.
In short, it’s time for the Pentagon to stop weaving all over the road, to get back in its lane, and to stay there.
On domestic policy, the most obvious issue is the metastasis of the Pentagon budget, which has doubled since 9/11. The total “national security budget,” which includes not just the Pentagon but also intelligence agencies, Department of Homeland Security and nuclear weapons spending under the Department of Energy is over $1 trillion per year. Globally, the U.S. accounts for about 43% of total military spending, and more than the next 13 countries (most of which are U.S. allies) combined. The opportunity cost of this Pentagon pig-out is investment in the things we really need to make our country more secure – improved education, health care, jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure and addressing climate change.
While not necessarily the fault of the Pentagon, a creeping militarization of social policy, as seen in policing, prisons, the “war on drugs” and immigration, among other areas, is cause for grave concern and corrective action.
Constitutionally, the arrogation of power by the Obama Administration to assassinate anyone, anywhere on the planet, anytime it wants to by drones or other weapons with little or no congressional or judicial oversight can hardly be what the president ran on as “change you can believe in.”
(The president’s home state senator and former colleague, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, plans a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing later this month to address this issue, including the Administration’s assertion of the Authorization of the Use of Military Force after 9/11 as the legal justification for drone strikes in countries with which we are not at war.)
Militarization of U.S. foreign policy has been a bipartisan project since at least the end of World War II. And perhaps that’s not surprising for a country founded on and consolidated by the extreme violence of the genocide of the First Americans and imposition of slavery on Africans brought here in chains.
Quick, name the last real diplomatic success by the United States. Anything really significant since Carter’s Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel? That was in 1978 (and of course Palestine is still waiting for justice while Israel gets over $3 billion in U.S. military aid annually).
Look at U.S. foreign policy under our current Nobel Peace Prize laureate president. It’s less obviously and ham-handedly belligerent than Bush’s, okay. But in addition to ongoing drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other countries, he says “all options are on the table” with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, when even military leaders themselves say there is no military solution, only a diplomatic one. The U.S. and South Korea evidently think putting out the fire with gasoline is the right approach to North Korea’s nuclear test and recent threats, evidenced by ongoing war games, simulated nuclear attacks on the North using B-2 and B-52 bombers, and rushing F-22 fighter jets to South Korea to beef up the already robust U.S. military presence in the region as part of the “Asia-Pacific Pivot” aimed at isolating our main banker, China. And last but not least, despite voting for the Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations this week, the U.S. remains the world’s number one exporter of conventional weapons.
Certainly the tens of millions of dollars annually spent on lobbying and campaign contributions by the largest war profiteers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Raytheon and others — have a toxic effect on our national priorities. It’s doubly galling, in that their profits come almost entirely from military contracts paid for by our tax dollars, which they then use to impact legislation and elections to benefit their interests, to the detriment of those of the taxpaying public.
It is not necessary to pinpoint cause and effect on this state of affairs, where Pentagon interests and macho militarist approaches seemingly run roughshod over everything else, to declare that it is wrong, and needs to be changed. And there is no blame, only respect, for those serving in the military, who need the very best care we can provide as they return home from our misguided wars and far-flung military bases abroad (over 800 of them!).
So what is the mission of the U.S. military supposed to be? According to United States law, it is “Preserving the peace and security and providing for the defense of the United States, the Commonwealths and possessions and any areas occupied by the United States; Supporting the national policies; Implementing the national objectives; Overcoming any nations responsible for aggressive acts that imperil the peace and security of the United States.”
I see nothing there about “full-spectrum dominance” of the rest of the world, as the Pentagon’s joint Vision 20/20 doctrine released in 2000 advocates, and which has seemingly become the military’s de facto mission.
Regardless of what anyone in the military says its mission is, they work for us, the taxpayers that provide their salaries and buy their weapons. So we can overrule them and force the Pentagon to reduce its role and get back in its lane.
It shouldn’t be hard to see how we can get the Pentagon back in its lane, and let more peaceful, just and sustainable priorities prevail in our domestic and foreign policies. Slash the Pentagon budget by at least 25%, and invest those savings in human and environmental needs in order to jump start our economy. Let diplomacy take precedence in foreign policy over military threats and false solutions. I suspect many people, even in the military hierarchy, might welcome such a reduced role in U.S. policy, and in the world. It must be tiring driving all over the road. Staying in one’s own lane can have its advantages.
Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and over 70,000 on-line supporters.