During the 2016 election campaign Donald Trump promised an end to pointless foreign wars and attacked ‘useless’ and massively expensive new military equipment, like the $1.5 trillion Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter. But the Trump presidency has ushered in a new era of militarism, as America prepares for high tech, massively violent wars against Russia and China, argues Phil Hearse.
On April 27, 2016, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump used an invitation-only event at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel to argue that presidents of both parties have been responsible for getting the United States into pointless and hugely costly foreign wars. That, Trump promised, would change once he moved into the White House.
“I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital ‘V’…The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies.”
Alongside his promise to reign back on foreign wars Trump also promised a major funding boost for the military. The first promise has not been kept, to the infuriation of some of his ‘alt-right’ outriders, like Steve Bannon and Ann Coulter; the second one has been kept –big time. In late 2017 and early 2018 two major announcements confirmed the turn towards a new era of hyper-militarism and preparation for war – the new defence budget that went up from a headline figure of around $600bn in 2017 to over $700bn in 2018, and a new 10-year defence strategy announced by Secretary of Defence, former marine general James T. Mattis. These announcements went together with the prior outlining of a new nuclear strategy, aimed at upgrading the US nuclear arsenal and lowering the threshold for the use of these weapons (1).
Trump’s policy on the military is now substantially in the hands of the military themselves, and their supporters among the hard right in Congress, who favour stepped-up militarisation, and a harsher, more aggressive foreign policy. Predictably it has legitimised new efforts by China and Russia to modernise their own nuclear and other weapons, in other words the start of a new arms race.
The new defence strategy modifies Barack Obama’s ‘tilt’ towards Asia, which was on the military front obviously aimed at China and went hand-in-hand with the ‘war on terror’: now the US’s main military targets are defined as both Russia and China, abandoning the ‘war on terror’ as the central military priority – although billions will still be devoted to it. Mattis’ speech (2) outlining the new strategy, was very political and quite explicit in repudiating previous attempts under previous administrations to limit military competition with Russia and China. He states:
“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity. They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence…
“These competitions require the United States to rethink the policies of the past two decades – policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners. For the most part, this premise turned out to be false…
Consequently: “We will compete to ensure that regions of the world are not dominated by one power and to strengthen America’s capabilities – including in space and cyberspace – and revitalize others that have been neglected.”
A key phrase here is that the United States will compete to ensure that regions of the world are “not dominated by one power”. The omitted phrase here is:
‘…unless that power is the United States itself.’
Briefly summed up, the new defence strategy outlines these key points:
First the US is going to compete for dominance over key strategic spaces and this means preparing for massively violent war and being able to engage in war rapidly.
Second, the key threats to American military-economic-political dominance come from China and Russia.
Further, while preparing to prioritise confrontation with Russia and China, the US also remains focussed on Iran and North Korea, and also the ‘war on terror’:
“Rogue regimes like North Korea and Iran persist in taking outlaw actions that threaten regional and even global stability…And despite the defeat of ISIS’ physical caliphate, violent extremist organizations like ISIS or Lebanese Hezbollah or al Qaida continue to sow hatred, destroying peace and murdering innocents across the globe.”
Before we go into what the new strategy entails, let’s note that militarism under Trump is also war in the here and now. As Nick Turse points out (3), the United States is typically engaged in more than a hundred operations in Africa each day. The war in Afghanistan has not been scaled down, as promised by Trump, but 4000 more troops have been sent. US planes carried out such a huge number of missions in Mosul and Raqqa against ISIS, every bit as devastating for the civilian populations as the Russian bombing in Syria, that the Pentagon has had to ask for more money to replenish its stock of missiles and smart bombs (4). Drone attacks are being stepped up in east Africa and Pakistan (5). Every day United States’ planes refuel Saudi attack planes going to carry out more slaughter in Yemen, and the United States also helps with targeting and sometimes with the sea blockade of Yemeni ports (6). US military collaboration with Israel is continuous. And American military boots are on the ground, in combat, in Yemen and Syria.
From AirSea Battle to Multi-Domain Dominance
One thing the American military doesn’t lack is theory, and while much of that theory is posed in apparently technical military terms, it is in fact highly politicised. Such is the enormous scale of US military personnel, finance, equipment and operations, that each of the four major wings – the army, navy, air force and marine corps – has its own intellectual generals and colonels, laser focussed on strategy, and especially on defending the specific interests of the service concerned. Each major change in strategic orientation is decked around with over-arching theory.
In the first decade of the century, to confront China a new doctrine was developed – AirSea Battle, stressing the role of the navy and air force, and indeed the concept was developed by thinkers linked to those two services(7). The lethality of weapons involved means that AirSea Battle, and its successor Multi-Domain Dominance, imply war with certainly tens of thousands of deaths, and probably hundreds of thousands. AirSea Battle envisaged US sea and air-based forces making ultra-violent attacks on the Chinese mainland, on islands around China where the People’s Liberation Army might be based and on Chinese naval assets. That this was, between about 2010 and 2017, the dominant military doctrine, indicates the centrality of the Chinese ‘threat’ as far as US military planners are concerned. Today AirSea Battle has been replaced by Total Domain Dominance, an attempt to survey and dominate huge geographical areas, using cyber, electronic and satellite platforms, which US defence intellectuals hope can be synthesised into an artificial intelligence ‘defence algorithm’ (8), capable of viewing a giant battlefield and choosing targets and tactics. Doing that requires an enormous array of new and highly expensive weaponry. In the early 1980s Mary Kaldor (9) coined the phrase ‘baroque arsenal’ to refer to huge overkill possessed by the US military under President Ronald Reagan. Today’s super-expensive actual and in-the-pipeline weapons might be referred to as ‘super-baroque’. Under the new budget all four services get exactly what they want, and for the moment price is no object.
The Politics of the New Defence Posture
Since the late 1940s it has been an accepted constant of US politics, Democrat and Republican, that American economic and political primacy requires military dominance. Up until the collapse of the Soviet bloc, that took the form of dragooning other Western powers into the American-dominated NATO alliance, as well as multiple direct military interventions worldwide. With the collapse of the Soviet Union the whole apparatus of NATO and the American military role could have seemed increasingly irrelevant (although not to everyone), but they were given new focus by after the 9/11 attacks.
After 2001 George W. Bush and his key advisors like Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld initiated a new era of US dominance through the military, via the ‘war on terror’. This overarching political-military framework implied a defence posture based on rapid deployment and the targeting of ‘rogue’ states and terrorist organisations like’ Al-Qaida and ISIS. It went alongside an ideological posture involving crude Islamophobia and an adoption of the ‘clash of civilisations’ idea developed by Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis (10), in which the civilisations clashing were evidently Christianity and Islam.
In addition to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror emphasised things like drone attacks, rapid special forces attacks and of course the extensive use of airpower. Now under Trump the new military strategy implies a different political orientation and a new way of marshalling key United States allies. In many ways it parallels the US military outlook during the Cold War, although without the ideological ‘glue’ of anticommunism. It is the project of politically and militarily dominating the world’s major land mass – Eurasia. The importance of Eurasia from a strategic point of view was most eloquently expounded by Jimmy Carter’s former security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. He says:
“Eurasia is the world’s axial supercontinent. A power that dominated Eurasia would exercise decisive influence over two of the world’s three most economically productive regions, Western Europe and East Asia. A glance at the map also suggests that a country dominant in Eurasia would almost automatically control the Middle East and Africa. With Eurasia now serving as the decisive geopolitical chessboard, it no longer suffices to fashion one policy for Europe and another for Asia. What happens with the distribution of power on the Eurasian landmass will be of decisive importance to America’s global primacy and historical legacy.” (11)
This argument by Brzezinski is hardly challenged in the American military and foreign policy elite. Today the United States under Trump is making bold moves to attempt to militarily dominate both ends of the Eurasian land mass, while keeping its military footprint firmly implanted in the Middle East, which enables political and military influence in the centre of that landmass, western Asia. Through military means, the United States targets Chinese political and economic influence in Asia, and also Putin’s plans to seek closer links in Western Europe.
The new militarist promise: 20,000 dead per day in Seoul alone
Since 2014 the news has been full of stories about Chinese occupation of groups of reefs and shoals in the South China sea – the Spratly ‘islands’, the Paracels and the Scarborough Shoal. Each of these islands is disputed between the nearest maritime states. Beijing asserts sovereignty over areas that span 35 million square kilometres, but parts of that are also claimed by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Japan.
China has been landing troops and constructing naval and aircraft facilities on these patches of rock and turning some of them into real islands. In the West this is usually presented as a power grab by China, trying to bully its weaker neighbours, especially since some of these islands are thought to be the site of important oil and other mineral deposits.
But possible mineral resources are only a part of the story. The real core of it is China’s so-called ‘Malacca dilemma’. Despite its own offshore reserves, China is dependent for at least 65% of its oil coming by tanker from the Middle East via the narrow Malacca straits between the Malay peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It is this strait that feeds traffic from the Indian Ocean into the South China Sea and then to the Chinese oil terminals in Guajong, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces. Any blockade of this oil would deal hammer blows to the Chinese economy.
But in addition, a huge proportion of China’s manufacturing output goes via container ships in the South China Sea. China also has to defend the sea lanes to its east, for example across the Pacific to Chile which supplies its copper, and across the Indian Ocean to Africa from where it buys huge amounts of raw materials.
Former US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, said in January 2017 that the US should go further by blocking Chinese access to the islands. During Congressional confirmation hearings he said:
“We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed. They are taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China’s.”
China’s dramatic economic growth pressurises the US position in the Pacific Rim. Since the Second World War the US has been the dominant political, economic and military power in East Asia. Now it sees its partners in the region tilting towards more economic and political co-operation with China. This will only be reinforced by China’s so-called ‘belt and road’ initiative, which seeks to develop joint infrastructure projects with countries to China’s west and south. By posing China as a security threat the US cements its political alliances with the countries of East Asia and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and also secures circuits of US investment and other economic collaboration.
A cursory glance of the documentation surrounding AirSea Battle indicates something obvious – the Chinese stance vis-à-vis the US military presence in the Western Pacific is essentially defensive. The whole discussion is about military operations against and around the Chinese mainland; there is absolutely no presumption of Chinese aircraft carriers off the coast of California. The essentially defensive nature of the Chinese posture can be clearly seen from the objectives the four navy-air force authors set for AirSea Battle, which boil down to suppressing the PLA’s ability to defend the Chinese mainland, ships and nearby bases. The core of this strategy is overcoming the ability of China to attack US ships, missiles and airbases at a distance, defeating its anti-missile systems, but above all crushing its surveillance and command and control system through a “blinding campaign against PLA battle networks”. In a highly significant phrase the authors call for “seizing and sustaining the initiative in the air, sea, space and cyber domains.” A key phrase explaining the US military purpose is “Anti-Access/Area Denial”, shortened to A2/AD, which means crushing Chinese attempts to deny geographical access to the planes, ships and missiles that will launch its most lethal attack weapons against China in a time of war.
Just three years ago the idea that China alone was the central military threat, and that the US army therefore would not be much needed in the ‘Western Pacific Theatre of Operations’, was strongly put forward by the doyen of American international relations theory, John Mearsheimer. He argued:
“The geography of Asia however looks markedly different to Europe. Most importantly there is no equivalent of the Central Front in the Asia-Pacific Region. When you look at the possible conflict scenarios between China and the United States, it is hard to see where a large American army would be needed.” (12)
In 2015 this looked like a plausible argument, but Mearsheimer’s basic assumptions – no major conflict envisioned for Central Europe and continuing austerity for the armed forces – now look way off the mark. The presidency of Donald Trump and the newfound dominance of the military itself in defence thinking, has redeemed the role of the army because of a new tilt towards conflict with Russia, and because the army has pushed forward its role in air defence and anti-ship artillery, including the THAAD anti-missile system and Patriot missiles, that would be needed in Asia.
AirSea Battle has now been replaced by Multi-Domain Dominance, which seeks to control and survey enormous areas, and synthesise information from many sources, including electronic, cyber and satellite platforms.
Two things are clear immediately. Multi-Domain Dominance is a massive undertaking and hugely expensive; it also includes grotesque amounts of violence. Its proponents call it ‘lethal and chaotic’.
In order to try to impose some order on Multi-Domain Dominance, mammoth data processing centres are being created. But for the moment the various forces’ data centres cannot keep up with the mass of information that would be collected in a real-time battle. The prospective solution is artificial intelligence – the so-called ‘war algorithm’. Colin Clark explains:
“Imagine the holy grail of a single mathematical equation designed to give the US military near-perfect understanding of what is happening on the battlefield, helping its human designers to react more quickly than our adversaries and thus win our wars — or better yet, deter the enemy from attacking at all….no one we’ve spoken with believes one equation can do everything in a war, but they all agree it’s a powerful concept for considering the risks and rewards of this new push by the Pentagon, because this is all about the intersection of mathematics and decision-making.” (13)
For the moment the Pentagon has pledged that this artificial intelligence system would always involve humans in the chain, so that no computer could give the ‘kill’ instruction. But it would of course propose numerous targets.
We can get a glimpse of what Multi-Domain Dominance and the war algorithm have in mind through an article entitled What Would War with North Korea Look Like: 20K Dead a Day by Rob Givens, former deputy assistant chief of staff for operations of U.S. Forces Korea and special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He argues:
“Thousands of aircraft will wage an epic battle across the entire Korean Peninsula…striking against the North’s aged, but plentiful air forces while also bombing Kim Jong-un’s missiles and artillery…In short order, the air forces in South Korea would be joined by U.S. Navy, Marine, and Air Force fighters from Okinawa and Japan. U.S. bombers from around the globe would also be called in. Every square foot of North Korea would be in range…
“The horror would set in as thousands were killed or wounded. In some estimates, North Korea would inflict 20,000 casualties a day just in Seoul during for the first few days…We will use cluster weapons that spread bomblets over areas the size of football fields. We will return artillery fire wherever enemy batteries are firing. When optimum for military conditions, we will hit targets in the middle of urban areas; it would be impossible to prevent civilian casualties…” (14)
This gives a clear picture of the colossal resources, especially aerial resources, that will be mobilised from around the globe. When Donald Trump talks about destroying North Korea, he is not engaging in hyperbole.
Militarising the Borderlands
In January 2017 the first 1000-strong contingent of US troops out of a planned force of 4000 arrived in Poland. Ewan MacAskill, writing just before Trump’s inauguration as president, said: “The Kremlin may hold back on retaliatory action in the hope that a Donald Trump presidency will herald a rapprochement with Washington. Trump, in remarks during the election campaign and since, has sown seeds of doubt over the deployments by suggesting he would rather work with than confront Putin.” (15)
Any such illusion must now have departed the minds of Kremlin leaders. Donald Trump has been brought to heel over the assessment of Russia as an enemy state, held by US foreign policy, intelligence and military elites. In his appointment confirmation hearings, the new Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs, Marine General Joseph Dunford, nominated Russia as a more important enemy than ISIS. He said “Russia presents the greatest threat to our national security.” Why? Because it’s a nuclear power. As such it “could pose an existential threat to the United States.” And Russia’s behaviour in recent years is “nothing short of alarming”. His vice-chair, Air Force General Paul Salva, said “I would put the threats to this nation in the following order: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.” (16)
The campaign by the Congressional Democrats over the alleged links between the Trump team and Russia during the 2016 presidential election campaign seems to have put an end to any thought by the Trump camp to break from the dominant ‘Russia as enemy’ discourse.
In November 2017 Trump signed a deal with Poland to sell them Patriot anti-missile missiles, bringing to an end a 13-year long saga in which Poland had refused to accept the air defence missiles – citing arguments about who would control them, and pressurised by Russian hostility. Now Poland has the missiles and a 4000-strong and heavily armoured contingent of US troops.
According to the Independent there are now 7000 NATO troops stationed in Eastern Europe.
“Thousands of NATO troops have amassed close to the border with Russia as part of the largest build-up of Western troops neighbouring Moscow’s sphere of influence since the cold war.
“The Baltic states, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria are hosting soldiers from across NATO’s 28-member states, with more than 7,000 troops deployed in countries bordering Russia. The UK is the lead nation in Estonia, where 800 soldiers are based at the Tapa base, about 50 miles from Tallinn, helped by French and Danish forces.
“British soldiers are also deployed in Poland as part of a US-led NATO mission numbering some 4,000 troops, which is supported by the Romanian army. In Latvia and Lithuania, around 1,200 troops from Canada and Germany (respectively) are deployed alongside forces from across Europe.
“In the far north of the continent, more than 3000 Marines are also on rotation in Norway, which shares a border with Russia inside the Arctic Circle. Kremlin officials claim the build-up is the largest since the Second World War.” (17)
So what is the Russian behaviour that is that has led to this beefing up of NATO/US forces in the borderlands? Without doubt the regime of Vladimir Putin has witnessed a rise of Russian nationalism and self-assertion. Russia has substantially modernised its military equipment and intervened with a bombing campaign and troops on the ground in Syria that saved Syrian president Bashir al-Assad from defeat by the rebels, but also killed many hundreds of Syrian civilians.
But the key Russian actions that alarmed NATO were the August 2008 war with Georgia over the Russian province of South Ossetia in 2008; Russia’s re-incorporation of the Crimean Peninsula into its territory; and its support for Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine. From a Russian viewpoint, each of these events can be seen as a defensive action.
Holding this view in no way sanctions the authoritarian and brutal regime of Vladimir Putin, or indeed the methods that regime uses against its political opponent in Russia or in the borderlands. But to see Russia as holding the main responsibility for the military stand-off with NATO in Eastern Europe is to accept a hefty dose of Western propaganda.
In South Ossetia an armed Georgian incursion was attempting to force Ossetian secession from the Russian Federation. An EU report in 2009 found overwhelmingly that Georgia under its right-wing President Mikheil Saakashvili was responsible for the conflict.
It seems likely the key reason for the re-incorporation of Crimea was the perceived threat to Russia’s key naval base at Sevastopol. The base is key to Russia’s access to the Black Sea. The new nationalist government in Ukraine following the 2013 uprising was extremely hostile to Russia and could have decided to end Russia’s access to the base. But in addition, the national identity of Crimea is at least ambiguous. The peninsula was gifted to Ukraine by a whim of Nikita Khrushchev in 1954, at a time when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and a substantial majority of its population is ethnically Russian. Re-incorporation with Russia was backed by a huge majority in the March 2014 referendum.
NATO’s militarisation of the borderlands is above all justified by the conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine, where a bitter civil war has been fought since 2014, pitting Ukrainian troops against Russian-backed rebels. Richard Sakwa has outlined in detail the spontaneous origins of the Donbass revolt against the new Ukrainian nationalist government in Kiev(18).This government had come to power in 2013 as a result of the ‘Maidan’ rebellion against the corrupt and brutal regime of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Alarmed by the new government’s perceived extreme nationalism and hostility to ethnic Russians in Donbass, a genuine popular revolt in that area began. Only later did ‘volunteers’ from Russia begin to play a predominant role in the armed rebellion.
Sakwa says: “A grass roots protest movement welled up in March 2014, clearly enjoying popular support.” Opinion polls in the region showed however that only a minority wanted secession from the Ukraine, but a big majority feared the hostility of the ultra-nationalists in and around the new Ukrainian government.” (19)
After three years of war the NATO-armed Ukrainian forces were fought to a standstill. The danger is that the Ukrainian government in Kiev will attempt a major military offensive, utilising massive amounts of airpower and artillery that the rebels do not possess, leading to the danger of direct Russian intervention.
Russia’s reincorporation of Crimea and actions in relation to Ukraine have to be seen in the context of the United States’ relentless efforts to push the borders of NATO up to the Russian frontier, despite undertakings after the fall of Communism that this would never happen.(20)
As explained in detail by Sakwa, Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union sought a closer integration with the rest of Europe in its ‘Greater Europe’ concept, which was de facto opposed to the ‘Euro-Atlantic’ idea of most NATO leaders. Russia’s position was bitterly opposed by the United States, which succeeded in getting the European Union in 2007 to insist that all new applicants for membership of the European Union must also join NATO (a condition which existed de facto since 1999). The United States reacts negatively to any attempt to undermine its unique primacy-through-NATO. If the political-economic role of NATO is understood in this way, then of course we can try to understand an apparent paradox, rarely aired and as it were ‘hidden in plain sight’. Given that NATO was supposedly created as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, why did it not disappear when the Soviet Union did?
Korea and Iran
At the beginning of March 2018 North Korea hinted that it might be ready for peace talks with South Korea and indeed might be prepared to discuss its nuclear weapons development project. On Channel 4 News former CIA analyst Sue Mi Terry explained that the North Koreans want a peace treaty, i.e. a treaty that would formally end the Korean War, which legally has never ended. That, said Terry, is a non-starter because that means removing United States forces from the Korean peninsula (21), which the United States will never accept. American discomfiture at the presence of a North Korean delegation at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, at which US vice-president Mike Pence sat stony faced while North and South Korean leaders shook hands, was symbolic. The United States is not interested in its military presence in South Korea being reduced or ended. And that is because the troops, weapons and surveillance systems it has in place in Korea are a key part of ensuring the stability of its regional system of political alliances, and of militarily pressurising China.
That the American presence in Korea is also aimed at China and Russia is illustrated by its location of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea. It is not the prospect of the US shooting down a North Korean missile that irks Beijing, but rather the ability of THAAD’s advanced radar system to enable the US military to peer across the Yellow Sea into China’s own airspace and potentially to track the movement of Chinese military hardware on the ground. Moreover, the THAAD system in South Korea reinforces US missile defences in the event of a war with China or Russia.
The location of THAAD in South Korea was controversial, in the country itself and elsewhere, prior to the latest round of US-Pyongyang threats. After multiple missile launches, and the ‘Fire and Fury’ threats by Trump, opposition to THAAD abated.
While the US military presence in Iraq has wound down to around 9000 soldiers, in fact the overall US military presence on the Middle East is substantial – around 54,000 personnel all told. By far the largest single base is the US airforce base in Qatar, where about 10,000 personnel are stationed. There are 5000 US troops in the UAE, another 15,000 in Kuwait, and 7000 troops stationed at the naval base in Bahrain. There is also a US military presence in Jordan and Dhofar. Altogether this series of military bases represents an integrated force system to reinforce and defend reaction in the region – and to ensure US diplomatic and economic interests, not least being the fact that the largest proven reserves of oil are there.
Dominating the area means close support for its key military allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Trump’s stepping up of the conflict with Iran, especially the US beginning to back away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal, is motivated by two things. First is the desire to keep the Europeans out of doing massive trade deals with Iran. In the nine months up to December 2017 there was €14 billion worth of trade between Iran and Europe. Many European firms are anxious to start trading with Iran again.
According to Michael Peel, Katrina Manson and Andrew Ward:
“European countries are battling to save commercial ties with Iran as part of a wider effort to stop the US upending the landmark deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme. With President Donald Trump expected to refuse to certify that Tehran is complying with the accord, European officials are making contingency plans to protect companies such as Airbus, Total, Siemens and Peugeot, which have all struck deals in Iran if nuclear-related US sanctions are reimposed.” (22)
As well as preventing renewed European influence in the region, Trump’s administration is determined to use military force, if necessary through proxies, to roll back Iranian influence which militarily confronts its key allies. US tactical, logistical, intelligence and armament support to both Israel and Saudi Arabia, has helped multiple Israeli air strikes against Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Iranian allies and Iranian weapons in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
If war breaks out again in Ukraine, or between Israel and Iran (or Iranian-backed forces), US militarism and US military personnel will have a key hand in it.
Boosting the Budget: Corporate Welfare
On December 17 2017 Donald Trump signed off the 2018 defence budget. It was, he declared, an historic increase in military spending. Depending on how you define military spending, figures range from about $720bn to over $1 trillion.
This budget is a huge victory for the Pentagon and all the armed services. It will mean a killing for the major military contractors. Occurring at just the same time as huge tax cuts, it is likely to impact negatively on social security and other spending.
After the 2008 financial crash defence spending was pegged at $549bn; after Trump’s election n in November 2016 the Congress awarded the military an extra $50bn top-up to go through the $600bn mark for 2017. The Obama administration talked about tough choices in military spending, but now Trump has overcome those choices. It is not a matter of prioritising one or two of the four armed services, they will all be winners! It is not a matter of planes versus tanks or continuing the ‘war on terror’ against preparing for war against Russia and China. Everything will be done; all the armed services will benefit. Except there is one clear choice. High tech equipment, especially surveillance and command and control systems, will be preferred over more soldiers, despite the (very modest) increase in personnel of about 20,000. In terms of announced figures military spending in the US comes second in the national budget to social security: in real terms it is about joint number one, or even slightly ahead.
In an interview with Sputnik radio last January, James Kavanagh, editor of ThePolemicist.net said:
“The big takeaway against is that spending is essentially unlimited. Trump despite what anybody thought, despite what he said, is part of the military-industrial complex. He said he was going to cut back on wars, but he wants to increase military spending?
“It demonstrates the tenacity of the military-industrial complex in the United States: these bills are structured in a way that give contracts throughout the country and almost every congressional district hundreds of bases. Thousands of contracts are issued every day and it becomes very difficult for any congressperson to vote against it, because they are voting against pork that’s coming into their district. Essentially this is military Keynesianism”. (23)
About half of the Pentagon’s defence budget goes directly to contractors. In 2016 that meant $304 billion. The top recipients of that largesse were the five biggest defence contractors – Lockheed Martin ($36.2 billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General Dynamics ($12.7 billion) and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). The CEOs of these corporations, mainly or in some cases wholly dependent on government contracts, earned a total $96 million between them. Hundreds of millions more were shared by other top executives.
A state of militarism
The United States has a national culture that is obsessed with, and riven by, violence. Millions of third world citizens have died in its wars since 1950. Civilian gun ownership is at astronomic levels, as are deaths from gunshot wounds. Its police forces and other law enforcement agencies – ‘warrior cops’ – are increasingly armed with military-grade weaponry and military-style tactics.
Obsession with gun culture and the lionisation of military heroes is strongly linked with racism and hypermasculinity. It also dovetails with notions of American superiority and the idea that American civilisation is special – a ‘shining city on a hill’. Carl Boggs comments:
“This superiority came with an unwavering common belief in the absolute goodness – even Divine goodness – of American imperial ambitions and military prowess. Far more than a material device for killing, the gun was elevated to a kind of metaphysical status…it was in precisely such an ideological milieu that Chris Kyle, real-life protagonist of the blockbuster American Sniper, could attain posthumous recognition as both mass killer and national hero… Kyle’s life was shaped by a gun obsession (weapon, in Army parlance) – in this case, a sophisticated military rifle equipped with high-powered telescopic lens. A sharpshooter in Iraq, Kyle was said to have racked up the largest number of kills in U.S. history – familiar tale of good Americans murdering evil foreigners to save freedom and democracy. The fact that guns (high-tech weapons) were used in Iraq to routinely kill men, women, and children was treated as a routine fact of life in the movie, as it was across the corporate media and political culture.” (23)
It’s clear that deepening militarism goes hand in hand with the political dominance of the hard right, and a state that has increasing recourse to repression to crush protest, whether on the streets of Ferguson or the traditional lands of the Standing Rock Sioux in Dakota. A state that is a warfare state externally, almost invariably becomes an undemocratic warfare state internally.
1. Trump’s New Dr Strangelove, https://www.prruk.org/donald-trumps-new-dr-strangelove-plans-for-the-unthinkable-genocide-in-north-korea/
7. Jan van Tol, Mark Gunzinger, Andrew F. Krepinevich, Jim Thomas AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept http://csbaonline.org/research/publications/airsea-battle-concept/
9. Mary Kaldor, The Baroque Arsenal, Hill and Wang, 1981. Mary Kaldor had in mind Ronald Reagan’s eventually unbuilt MX missile system, as well as the decision to site cruise missiles in Europe.
10.The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel P. Huntington, Simon and Schuster, 2002. See also Bernard Lewis on ‘the roots of Muslim rage’ https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1990/09/the-roots-of-muslim-rage/304643/
11. Zbigniew Brzezinski, A Geostrategy for Eurasia,http://www.comw.org/pda/fulltext/9709brzezinski.htm
12. John Mearsheimer, The Rise of China and the Decline of China, Didactic Press 2015
13. Colin Clark, The War Algorithm: the Pentagon’s Bet on the Future of Warfare, https://breakingdefense.com/2017/05/the-war-algorithm-the-pentagons-bet-on-the-future-of-war/
14. Rob Givens, What war with North Korea would look likehttps://breakingdefense.com/2017/09/what-war-with-north-korea-would-look-like-20k-nk-dead-a-day/
18. Richard Sawka, Frontline Ukraine, Crisis in the Borderlands, IB Taurus, 2015
24. Carl Boggs, Gun Crazy – Life and Times in the Warfare State, https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/03/05/gun-crazy-life-and-times-in-the-warfare-state/
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
14 Nov, 11.00-16.00
Pandemic Politics and the radical left: Left Unity policy conference 2020
Our 2020 policy conference will be held online. We will be discussing resolutions and updates to our policy manifesto. All are welcome.
European Forum 2020
The space where the essential joint struggle and transformation projects in Europe are being forged. It will be held online during the whole month of November – dates TBC.
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