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The Urgent Need to Demilitarize the National Security State
Here is a brief review of national security policy over the past decades and what the Obama administration should consider to finally end Cold War attitudes.
By Melvin A. Goodman
The national security policy inherited by President Barack Obama has been increasingly militarized over the past two decades despite the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the demise of the Warsaw Pact, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war.
The president has addressed the problem incrementally, reducing growth in spending in his first defense budget, establishing a timeline for withdrawal of American military forces in Iraq, returning to arms control negotiations with Russia and supporting international diplomacy in dealing with such problems as Iran's nuclear program.
At the same time, however, President Obama has appointed too many retired general officers to sensitive national security positions; provided too much support for new weapons, surveillance, and reconnaissance systems; and continued support for Georgian and Ukrainian membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The outcome of the current high-level debate over adding troops to support a misbegotten counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan will provide an indication of the president's willingness to demilitarize the national security arena and to restructure civil-military relations that have tilted heavily in the direction of the Pentagon.
President Obama's predecessors since 1981 contributed to the militarization of US national security policy. President Ronald Reagan demanded unprecedented defense spending in peacetime when the Soviet Union was in decay and decline. He also endorsed the Goldwater-Nichol Act in 1986 that created a new class of military viceroys (commanders in chief or CINCS) to make regional foreign policy, which marginalized the role of the State Department.
President George H.W. Bush deployed 26,000 troops to Panama (Operation Just Cause) only one month after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, indicating that use of force would not play a lesser role despite the new international environment. President Bill Clinton weakened our ability to conduct international diplomacy by abolishing the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the United States Information Agency and substantially reducing funding for the Agency for International Development (AID).
Clinton became the first president in 35 years to fail to stand up to the Pentagon on an arms control treaty, when he was unwilling to challenge the military's opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). President Obama, unfortunately, has still not named a new head of AID, and has not thrown his support to ratification for the CTBT.
Militarization of national security policy or reliance on the military to pursue objectives better pursued by other means reached a high point under President George W. Bush. He declared a "war on terror" or a "long war" and enabled the Pentagon to be the leading agency in combating terrorism around the world.
His policies of unilateralism and pre-emptive attack, which were proclaimed in his speech at West Point in 2002, marked a radical revolution in American foreign policy. He also ineffectually relied on saber rattling against Iran and North Korea instead of resorting to traditional diplomatic tools to limit their nuclear programs.
Finally, he abrogated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the cornerstone of deterrence since 1972, and funded a national missile defense that has not been established as workable, but remains the largest line item for a weapons system in the defense budget. There is very little competition in the building of US weapons systems, which are behind schedule and over budget as the United States has pursued a spending spree on weapons that have little relevance to the effort to combat terrorism.
The United States is spending more than the rest of the world combined on its military ($670 billion), its intelligence community ($75 billion) and its homeland security ($50 billion), leaving the State Department and AID extremely underfunded. Cost overruns on the largest weapons system last year exceeded $300 billion.
The United States is also responsible for 70 percent of all sales in the global arms market, including $30 billion in sales to nations with scarce resources in the developing world. The Pentagon dominates the training and equipping of foreign military forces with very little legislative oversight or interagency coordination. For the past two decades, Congress has slashed funding for diplomacy and permitted the overseas headquarters of our regional military commanders to double their cold war size.
These policies have increasingly alienated the United States from the rest of the world, which did not share the view that the Iraq war and the "war on terror" were contributing to international safety or stability. The Defense Department has proven to be a blunt instrument for planning and executing global operations against terrorist threats.
The policies of torture and abuse, secret prisons and extraordinary renditions, moreover, meant the United States was no longer seen as a beacon of liberty to the world, but as an imperialistic bully with no respect for international law. The award of a Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama marked the first international recognition that a US president was prepared to reverse these policies and to demilitarize American national security policy.
President Obama must understand that the Pentagon has fought every arms control and disarmament treaty over the past 35 years, beginning with President John F. Kennedy's Partial Test Ban Treaty and continuing with the SALT and START treaties, the CTBT, the Land Mines Ban and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that banned an entire class of nuclear weapons systems.
President Obama needs to widen the dialogue with Russia to find common ground on limiting tactical nuclear weapons as well as open a dialogue with China to create more transparency and confidence-building measures on strategic weapons. He needs to revive the moribund arms control community and make sure that the Policy Planning Department at the State Department takes a more active role in long-term plans for disarmament.
The Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment engages in long-term planning for developing and using nuclear weapons, but there is no comparable institution in the policy or intelligence communities that advocates arms control and disarmament.
The Pentagon dominates the intelligence community with the control of most intelligence spending and intelligence personnel. Most intelligence collection requirements flow from the Pentagon, and deference within the policy community and the Congressional Intelligence Committees for the "warfighter" has meant that tactical military considerations have overwhelmed collection for strategic geopolitical considerations.
The militarization of intelligence has weakened the kind of community that President Harry Truman created 60 years ago and will complicate efforts to rebuild the nation's strategic intelligence capabilities. One of Truman's goals was to create an intelligence agency (CIA) that would challenge military estimates - not join the team.
President Obama has chosen retired generals to be the director of National Intelligence or the intelligence tsar, the national security adviser, the broker for a settlement in the Sudan and the ambassador to Afghanistan. In doing so, the president took a page out of his predecessor's appointment book, which included retired generals as secretary of state, special envoy to the Middle East to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the deputy director of Homeland Security.
The current policy debate over Afghanistan is dominated by position papers written by the Pentagon and Gen. David Petraeus's CENTCOM headquarters, and is not benefiting from a National Intelligence Estimate that would represent the views of 16 military and civilian intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, there are insufficient Foreign Service Officers (FSO) to deal with myriad international issues. At the present time, there are more servicemen and women marching in military bands than there are FSOs.
The Bush administration used the Pentagon to shift US strategic priorities away from Europe and Asia and toward the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, with misguided conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan contributing to the loss of American blood and treasure.
President Obama's speech on Afghanistan later this month should provide numerous clues to the outcome of the campaign that pits militarization versus demilitarization. He has the task of repudiating the military legacy of the Bush administration, but this requires a political campaign and not merely a speech or two on Afghanistan or Iraq.
It has been 20 years since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war, long past time for an American president to lead a genuine debate regarding the role of military power in the implementation of American foreign policy. In order to lead such a debate, President Obama must level with the American people about the failure of military power in Iraq and Afghanistan, the limits and constraints of military power and coercive diplomacy in dealing with nuclear problems in Iran and North Korea and the inability of the United States to confront its serious domestic issues because of the resource demands of the Pentagon, the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security. Our objectives must be reconciled with our resources.
Mark Twain warned us long ago that, "if the only tool in our toolbox is a hammer, then all of our problems will begin to look like nails." Unfortunately, President Obama has inherited that toolbox and needs to replace some of the hammers with the traditional tools of statecraft.
Melvin A. Goodman is national security and intelligence columnist for Truthout where this article was published. He is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. His 42-year government career included service at the CIA, State Department, Defense Department and the US Army. His latest book is "Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA."
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