In February of 2017, more than one hundred U.S. Generals signed a letter agreeing that Trump’s increase in military spending and cuts to the State Department budget have made them uneasy. It is therefore illogical to assume that other countries–who have exponentially less knowledge of the inner workings and intentions of the United States than our generals do–will not feel anxious about an expansionist U.S. military.
While the space for diplomacy was shrinking long before Trump’s administration, it is now apparent that American foreign policy has trended towards reacting with armed conflict as opposed to respecting international norms of communication and diplomacy. This policy standpoint has pulled the U.S. further out of the web of global interconnectedness. Working in a denser web of interconnected actors constrains states from disrupting the benefits awarded through peaceful cooperation. Thus, strengthening ties of interdependence–whether it be through trade or by placing common interests, such as environmental issues, on the international agenda–creates a system that reduces potential conflict. This isn’t to say that there is no place for military spending and armed conflict, but a large number of current militaristic engagements can be resolved peacefully if mechanisms that facilitate cooperation were stronger. As the hegemon, the U.S. needs to spearhead this move back towards diplomacy.
The Global Peace Index 2018 Report stated that on a global spectrum, peacefulness has declined year on year for eight of the last ten years. In 2017, both Europe and North America became less peaceful, with 23 out of 36 countries in Europe deteriorating that year. Just a few months later, the U.S. Senate voted to approve the allocation of $716 billion to military spending for 2019 this past June, Jeff Stein labels as “one of the biggest defense budgets in modern American history. Not only was this budget increase enacted despite economists openly expressing their fears about the rapidly rising federal deficit, but it also failed to take into account the ways in which other states perceive another’s militaristic expansion. Whether or not U.S. militarism is directly causal to the previously stated decrease in worldwide peacefulness, many war theorists suggest that when a state makes moves to gain power–in this case, military power–it can incite a dilemma despite the state having no intentions of using it’s increased military power against other states. Especially because of Trump’s lack of clear communication about foreign policy actions, it is hard to signal that the United States is solely developing military strength out of self-interest and not because of plans to use this force against others.
Furthermore, U.S. spending on military presents a model for rising powers to shape policy in the same way. Instead of demonstrating the importance of free trade and liberal policies that encourage independent domestic growth, many rising powers mirror militarization as a way to gain power in the international system. Even though there is a rare chance any country will match U.S. military’s strength and size, we are left to question what the impacts of a constantly militarizing world will be. Instead of focusing on other ways to incorporate themselves into the international system of the G7, many turn to militarization to place themselves at the forefront of rising power games.
U.S. Arms Trade
Unfortunately, the current U.S. policy of seemingly non-stop increase in militarization is not contained within our borders, it is reaching to influence other countries. While the the Trump administration advocates that the billions of dollars worth of arms sales supports U.S. security by boosting the military adeptness of its allies, these sales “create a host of negative, unintended consequences for the United States, for those buying the weapons, and for the regions into which American weapons flow.”
Beyond basic military expansion, the U.S. has increased its arms sales globally. These sales are thought to directly inflame feuds in hot spots like the Middle East by “flooding the international market with high-tech weapons.” After the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump did not reverse his decisions made earlier this year to ease restrictions on U.S. weapons sales overseas. In April this year, Trump “instructed the State Department to come up with a plan to speed up those sales within 60 days” as well as issuing a lift on President Obama’s ban on selling military drones to foreign governments. A recent, bipartisan resolution–which, if passed by both Congress and The White House, would suspend weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and prohibit US refuelling of Saudi coalition aircraft–is a positive step towards pulling the U.S. out of trade relationships that negatively shape and influence the Saudi-led coalition’s policies towards military action in Yemen. In a briefing to the upper chamber Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis argued that efforts to pull the U.S. out of Yemen would be unimpactful because the conflict would continue to progress with or without U.S. involvement. This demonstrates one of the major flaws in U.S. foreign policy decisions: instead of deploying diplomatic tools, such as the appointing ambassadors to countries, to incentivize positive change, the U.S. has fruitlessly maintained a military-centric approach that is unlikely to resolve international conflict issues.
The number of militaries who are dependent on the provision of arms by the U.S. is unacceptable. Sixty-four percent of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports come from the United States. Egypt spent $17.1 billion on the import of U.S. arms and eighty-six percent of Israel’s arms imports come from the U.S. as well. The Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker detects that the conflict status of Yemen–Saudi-Arabian led intervention–is “worsening” and the conflict status of both Egypt and Israel is “unchanging.” Despite risk assessments that are meant to lead the State Department and The White House to temporarily halt arms sales to countries in conflict because of the negative consequences, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel are all examples of how these government institutions have placed U.S. interests above rational diplomacy.
Countering U.S. International Militarization
Increases in exports of arms sales, high presence of on-the-ground armed military personnel, and staggering increases in military spending are all concerning components of current U.S. militarization. Countering the negative effects of this foreign policy approach will rely on avoiding the security dilemma and reinforcing the importance of institutions of diplomacy and global governance that foster interdependence. To avoid the security dilemma, the U.S. should decrease its military presence in locations where the necessity for armed American military can be debated. The National Defense Strategy describes forces in the contact layer as those “designed to help us compete more effectively below the level of armed conflict,” but if we shift towards too much of a protectionist foreign policy approach, it becomes more likely that countries will respond in an equally militaristic way. As in the case of U.S. military presence in Poland due to the conflicts in the Suwalki Gap, this deterrence method counterproductively sparks greater aggression and tension with Russia. Michael Kofman, Senior Research Scientist at CNA Corporation, contends that a permanent U.S. military presence is seen as a standoff, rather than a mutually beneficial deterrence strategy for Russia and Poland.
Reciprocal consequences of harming a trade or treaty partner leave states hesitant to incite conflict. How interdependence is breaking down as well because of U.S. policy of opting out of sharing the burden of global economic failures and environmental degradation. While global governance doesn’t provide as rapid gratification as military success does, foreign policy does not need to be a game of choosing between extremes. Instead, U.S. policies should encompass a mix of both protection and diplomacy. If the U.S. continues down this path of militarizing itself and, thus, encouraging or leaving states no other choice than to militarize in response, diplomatic bargaining will lose all its power and will be overshadowed by the weapon.