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Monday, December 5, 2011

A Republic, Not An Empire: A Radical Re-envisioning of American Military Policy

A Radical Re-envisioning of America's Military Policy

Washington's military and foreign policy are in shambles. We are currently involved in multiple costly regional wars of uncertain value to America's safety and defense. Most of these wars are against regimes that Washington had formerly supported, financed, and empowered, and most were triggered by an intelligence failure that allowed four commercial airliners to be hijacked by 19 terrorists and used as flying bombs to destroy the World Trade Center towers and part of the Pentagon. Things are so bad that the Department of Defense could not even defend its own headquarters. This was preceded by eight years of severe over-deployment of military forces overseas during the Clinton Administration. And despite a general consensus in America that we need change, the Obama Administration shows no signs at all of affecting any real change. What we need is a radical re-envisioning of our entire military and foreign policy-- and it can't come a moment too soon.

The Proper Role of a Military in a Civil Society

To begin, we have to determine the role and function of a military in a civil society. That role is the defense of its citizens and sovereign borders from foreign aggression. Remember that the purpose of a government is to establish the necessary precondition of human flourishing, which is a peaceful society, that is-- a society in which people live free from aggression. Therefore, the government can be justified in its use of force only to defend, which means only in response to the initiation of force by an aggressor. When government initiates force itself, it becomes an aggressor itself and does the very thing that it exists to prevent, breaching its own purpose and moral charter. So a military must be used only in its nation's defense.

The National Defense Threats America Faces

Having defined the purpose and role of a military as the defense of its nation's citizens, we must now determine and create an exhaustive list of the threats to a civil society's peaceful existence. These are: 1) Invasion or attack by a foreign military, 2) Internal civil war, 3) Acts of terrorism, and 4) Acts of piracy or other violence on international waters. The justification for having a large, standing army as we have in America today is to counter the threat of the first two possibilities, which are both extremely unlikely to happen today.

As Benjamin Friedman of the Cato Institute notes:

[America's] explosion in [defense] spending comes despite a historically benign threat environment. Invasion and civil war, which traditionally justified militaries, are unthinkable here. North Korea and Iran trouble their citizens and neighbors, but with decaying economies, shoddy militaries, and aversion to suicidal behavior, they pose little threat to the United States. Russia and China are incapable of territorial expansion that should worry Americans, unless we put our troops on their frontiers. And unlike us, they are out of the revolution export business. Terrorism is chiefly an intelligence problem arising from a Muslim civil war. Our military has little to do with it.

Disproportionately High Military Spending

It is truly inconceivable at this time in history that any foreign country would invade America, or that the United States would face a second civil war, so why the unprecedented level of military spending?

In the same article, Friedman notes that:

Non-war or base defense spending will be more than $515 billion in fiscal year 2009. Adjusting for inflation, that's 40 percent higher than the defense budget when George W. Bush took office. Add the wars, nuclear weapons research, veterans, and homeland security, and you get about $750 billion. That is more than six times what China spends, 10 times what Russia spends and 70 times what Iran, North Korea and Syria spend combined.

The Threat of Terrorism

In December 1998, nearly three years before the September 11 attacks, Dr. Ivan Eland of the Cato Institute published a foreign policy briefing entitled "Does U.S. Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism?" The study catalogs numerous empirical examples of the correlation between American military involvement overseas and terrorist attacks on the United States, strongly supporting its thesis as outlined in the paper's executive summary:

According to the Pentagon's Defense Science Board, a strong correlation exists between US involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States... The numerous incidents cataloged suggest that the United States could reduce the chances of such devastating--and potentially catastrophic--terrorist attacks by adopting a policy of military restraint overseas.

How To Reform American Foreign and Military Policy

In George Orwell's prophetic dystopian novel, 1984, the government was always at war in order to justify the endless sacrifice of its citizens and their freedoms. Though it was always at war, its war department was named The Ministry of Peace. Is it unfair to draw a parallel to our Department of Defense and its never-ending series of offensive wars and deployments? Imagine a military policy by which our Department of Defense lived up to its name and its proper role rather than bear that name to obscure its real purpose and the true nature of its activities.

The following is a list of proposals that would reform American military policy to best insure its defense from all four threats listed above and minimize monetary waste and unnecessary costs to American taxpayers. This is a blueprint for a slimmed-down, super-efficient, highly-effective American military machine that is modernized and makes sense in a post-9-11, 21st century world:

  • Make major, across-the-board reductions in military spending and activity. These would include:
    • The abolition of the Dept. of Homeland Security. Creating another cabinet level department to make national defense simpler and more efficient was a laughable absurdity. Keeping our homeland secure is what the Department of Defense exists to do.
    • Reduce the budget for the Department of Defense to pre-Bush levels, as well as matching reductions in target recruitment levels and present employment levels of both military and civilian personnel.
    • Remove all military personnel from foreign territory, including the dismantling and removal of all foreign military bases.
  • Formally declare neutrality in all armed conflicts (sorry folks, that includes Israel) and proclaim a new era of American peace, harmony, and "liberal intercourse with all nations" as George Washington recommended in his farewell address, taking heed of his admonition to "to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world."
  • Focus the DOD's competencies to center on counter-terrorism and continue to grow and improve our network of human intelligence. Our DOD should end up looking more like a national version of the NYPD's counter-terrorism unit. We do not need a large, standing army because we do not face the threat of foreign invasion or internal civil war. We should redesign a DOD that is streamlined and equipped to counter the two threats we do face: terrorism and piracy.
  • Secure our nation's borders and ports of entry! While our nation and the world will benefit most from a policy allowing the free flow of people, goods, capital, and information across our borders, there is no reason why our DOD shouldn't be able to patrol and defend our borders. Why are we more worried about the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan than we are about or own borders?
  • Restore freedom and respect for basic human rights by ending the CIA's practice of renditions, repealing the Patriot Act, and abolishing the Selective Service System along with any possibility of ever reinstituting a draft.

Get your anti-war bumper sticker today:

Wes Messamore,
Editor in Chief, THL
Articles | Author's Page


  1. "It is truly inconceivable at this time in history that any foreign country would invade America ..." Bingo, you got it. Our armed forces are not intended to protect us. They are offensive, not defensive.

    I wrote an article about the same subject today - great minds DO think alike!

  2. Thanks, Greg. And you are very correct to point out in your article that Obama does not represent the kind of change he led us all to believe he would. It's a shame that the policy proposals listed above are unlikely to come to fruition any time soon. But that's why we've got to fight this intellectual battle!

  3. And you are very correct to point out in your article that Obama does not represent the kind of change he led us all to believe he would.

    I didn't believe him, did you? I will attribute that to unconsidered comment, it happens to all of us from time to time. :-)

  4. No, absolutely not. And I'm glad you didn't either.

    I remembered that the Democrats have led America to war more times than the Republicans, that Clinton had more major troop deployments than any other president, and that Obama had voted for each and every bill to continue funding the war in Iraq.

    And I wasn't so unsophisticated as to believe that his anti-Iraq war rhetoric (which was bogus in itself) meant that he was anti-war in general. Perhaps I should have phrased it: "Obama does not represent the kind of change he led a majority of American voters to believe he would."

  5. You and I differ on a couple of small points, but I can go a long way towards supporting this idea. Especially the part concerning Homeland (in)security and the DOD, the need for more HumInt, and the gross over-expenditures. I do not side with you on calling our nation an empire.

    What we are doing is funding the security of every eurpopean socialist nation so that they can remain socialist.

    I think that in the end you and I would agree on the necessary action without agreeing on the reasons why.

  6. And hey- I can definitely meet you halfway and agree totally that we are essentially providing welfare to other countries with our global military policy.

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. While, for the most part I do agree with you, there are some things I disagree with you about namely the removing of all military personnel from overseas and dismantling all foreign military bases. After all sometimes the best defense is a good offense, and also it's like the Romans said "Si vis pacem, para bellum." or "If you want peace, prepare for war."