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An Agenda for Demilitarizing American National Security Policy

By Melvin A. Goodman  Posted by Marji Mendelsohn (about the submitter)       (Page 1 of 1 pages)   2 comments
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Part two of a two-part series on the need to demilitarize American foreign policy. Part one can be read here:click here the Democratic Party convention last summer, former President Bill Clinton said it was time for the United States to pursue the “power of its example” and to be less reliant on the “example of its power.”  In the wake of a misbegotten war in Iraq, a misconceived war in Afghanistan, and an incongruous “war on terror,” it is essential that the United States learn from the mistakes of the past decade.  A radical transformation of our national security and foreign policies is required.

Not since Lyndon Johnson became president 45 years ago, has a president taken the reins of power with such energy.  Obama, in his inauguration speech, demonstrated that he fully understood the need for a reversal of many U.S. foreign policies.  His rejection of the “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” was a denunciation of the Bush administration’s subversion of the Constitution in the wake of 9/11.  His emphasis on earlier generations, which “understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please,” was a rejection of Bush’s “long war” against terror that has created more enemies than friends.  And in stressing that the “world has changed, and we must change with it,” Obama sounded the clarion call for new policies around the world.  Two days after the speech, the new president released executive directives that called for the end of torture and abuse, the closing of Guantanamo, and an end to CIA’s secret prisons.  More recently, he has laid out plans for a withdrawal from Iraq, a possible opening to Syria, and a new dialogue with Russia.  This is an impressive start, but more needs to be done.

Reducing the Power of the Pentagon.  The United States is now spending more than the rest of the world combined on its military ($660 billion), its intelligence community ($55 billion), and its homeland security ($45 billion).  This has not led to military successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, intelligence successes, or greater security on U.S. borders.  Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has not addressed the record cost overruns on U.S. weapons systems, but yesterday the president called these overruns unacceptable and called for an end to no-bid contracts.  Hopefully, the Obama administration will address the necessity for the pet rocks of the various services, including the Air Force’s F-22 fighter, the Navy’s DDG-1000 stealth destroyer, and the Army’s Future Combat System as well as our unworkable national missile defense. Stopping or scaling back all of these systems would save $15 billion a year; ending construction of unnecessary attack submarines and the Marines’ tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft would save more. 

A promising development is in legislation sponsored by Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), who want to create a director of independent cost assessments, who would have a senior staff with the authority to obtain data from weapons contractors and to ensure that costs are justified.  The services, which are responsible for cost estimates on weapons programs, have never developed a professional staff to provide accurate cost estimates, let alone discipline profligate weapons manufacturers. Last year, according to the Washington Post, the Government Accountability Office reported that cost overruns on the largest weapons systems totaled about $300 billion.  The Obama administration also needs to block the Pentagon’s current efforts to take over the nation’s weapons laboratories in order to ensure that the labs expand their efforts in non-military research.  The intelligence community must also be demilitarized.

Rebuilding the Tools of Diplomacy.  The huge increases in military and intelligence spending came at the expense of investment in American diplomacy.  Secretary of State Clinton had to go outside the department to name special envoys to deal with the Middle East (George Mitchell), Southwest Asia (Richard Holbrooke), and the Persian Gulf (Dennis Ross).  None of these officials has experience or special expertise on their particular areas of concern, but the State Department lacked credentialed specialists who would be authoritative spokesman for U.S. policy.  In naming retired flag officers to the posts of national security adviser, intelligence tsar, and ambassador to Afghanistan, President Obama implicitly concurred that there were no logical civilian candidates for these sensitive national security positions.

Obama and Clinton must rebuild the State Department, which lacks a domestic constituency and has been an easy target for cutbacks by congressional troglodytes.  For the past two decades, the Congress has slashed the funding for diplomacy and permitted the overseas headquarters of our regional military commanders to double their Cold War size.  The influence of the State Department has deteriorated during this period, and there has been an additional bleeding of overseas programs and personnel from civilian to military agencies.  As a result, the United States lacks a coherent and integrated foreign policy, has dysfunctional foreign assistance programs, and lacks the expert cadre that the Foreign Service requires. 

Returning to Arms Control and Diplomacy.  Shackling the Pentagon, which has never encountered an arms control agreement that it supported, and retooling the State Department, which has lost most of its arms control experts, will contribute to a resumption of the arms control agenda supported by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Ironically, Secretary of State Clinton will have to correct the mistakes of her husband, President Clinton, who permitted the dissolution of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and mishandled the ratification process for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  The greatest damage was done by President Bush, who junked the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to clear the way for national missile defense and the militarization of space. Bush also walked away from decades of negotiation on verification and monitoring that should accompany treaties to reduce strategic weapons.

The recent collision between British and French nuclear submarines carrying more than 100 nuclear warheads demonstrated the need for greater reductions in nuclear inventories. Most of the 20,000 nuclear warheads in U.S. and Russian inventories have no strategic or military justification, and this year’s expiration of current treaties offers an important opportunity to reduce these bloated arsenals.  Nuclear nonproliferation also must be put at the top of the strategic agenda, with the U.S. pursuing a diplomatic agenda to deal with challenging situations in Iran, North Korea, and Pakistan.  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.

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.

Originally published at: click here

Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor at the National War College. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.”


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Marji Mendelsohn has been studying the effects of religion on politics and foreign policy with a secondary interest in election fraud.
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