While we don’t know how much President Donald Trump paid in taxes this year, or even if he paid any at all, most of the rest of us just filed with the IRS. With Trump’s escalation of U.S. military strikes in Syria (while he ate chocolate cake with China’s President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago) and reports that more troops are headed to the region, as well as debuting the Mother of All Bombs in Afghanistan and issuing ominous threats to North Korea, it’s a great time to ask if the government is investing our hard-earned money in the right priorities to make the U.S. and the world more secure. Specifically, do more bombs, guns, warships and missiles make us safer?
Most people would probably answer “yes” to that question. However, the state of the world tells us otherwise. Trump has proposed a Pentagon budget increase of $54 billion, which is more than the entire annual military budget of Russia or the UK. The U.S. accounts for about 40 percent of global military expenditures at more than $600 billion per year, maintaining more than 800 foreign military bases, 10 aircraft carrier battle groups, the most sophisticated conventional military hardware ever created, and nearly 7,000 nuclear weapons.
Under President Obama, the U.S. initiated a so-called nuclear “modernization” program, projected to cost at least $1 trillion over the next three decades, to completely upgrade and overhaul the entire U.S. nuclear weapons complex, from weapons laboratories to warheads to the planes, missiles and submarines that deliver them. Predictably, every other nuclear state has followed suit, announcing their own nuclear modernization plans, so this should properly be dubbed The New Arms Race.
Russia has for some time been more, rather than less, dependent on nuclear weapons for its security, and North Korea, sadly but predictably, sees its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent or counter-balance to the overwhelming military, nuclear, economic and political power of the U.S./South Korea/Japan alliance. So it’s fair to ask if U.S. nuclear and conventional superiority encourages rather than deters nuclear proliferation, making Americans and the whole world less safe.
It isn’t just Russia and North Korea who maddeningly defy U.S. objectives in the world, but also various governments and armed groups in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and many other countries, as a cursory scan of the daily global news headlines shows us. Is adding even more military might supposed to magically change this equation? How will more nukes or submarines help defeat ISIS or al Qaeda?
At the same time as Trump proposes to add to Pentagon bloat — the Pentagon admits to having lost tens of billions of dollars and has never passed an audit — he wants to slash spending on human needs in our communities and of course environmental programs. In the international security realm, he also proposes to gut funding for the State Department, United Nations World Food Programme and U.S. Agency for International Development that provide life saving food and medical supplies to impoverished and war torn countries, thus making the job of the U.S. military more difficult as poverty and climate change drive armed conflict around the world.
Trump, who portrays himself as the ultimate deal-maker, ought to know diplomacy is far cheaper, safer and more effective at resolving conflict than building up and utilizing our considerable military might. While he likes to disparage every program of his predecessor, he has not sought to overturn President Barack Obama’s most significant foreign policy successes, the Iran nuclear agreement which closed off Iran’s potential path to getting the Bomb, and the opening to Cuba.
Trump should do a deal with North Korea. It’s not rocket science, and perhaps he could enlist former President Jimmy Carter, who successfully defused tensions with North Korea twice, as a special envoy. Earlier this year, the administration scuttled unofficial but promising diplomatic talks when it canceled the visas of a North Korean delegation scheduled to come to New York. China has floated the idea of a North Korean nuclear and missile program freeze in exchange for the U.S. canceling its provocative war games with South Korea, an idea Pyongyang had signaled interest in recently.
As the president has admitted, some issues are more complicated than he thought when he took office. In the words of Winston Churchill, jaw jaw is better than war war. Both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence have stated, “all options are on the table,” (which includes using nuclear weapons) regarding North Korea, except the only good one, diplomacy. If Trump wants to live up to his maverick reputation, he should ignore the conventional wisdom that more bombs will make us safer, and invest in smart, tough negotiations instead.