“The Reality Is, The U.S. Has Global Interests. Our Defense Budget Reflects Those Interests.” – Robert M. Gates
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense
Former Director of The CIA
Because of our varied military, intelligence and diplomatic experience over the last 20 years we at Trident Response Group are often asked: “Why does America have such a large arsenal of conventional military weapons when the enemy we are fighting are small non-state terrorist groups?” Another is “Why does the Congress approve such huge military budgets?” or “Are we getting ready for a major war with North Korea, Russia or China?”
What most Americans don’t understand about the U.S. Military is that we are not the biggest military in the world, that would be China followed by India, the U.S. is third (CIA fact Book 2017). The U.S is the most technologically advanced military force (Janes Information Group) in the world and the only one with the ability to deploy decisive military power anywhere in the world. The historical reason for this was the “Cold War” as we faced off the Soviet Union and an increasingly developing China. With the rapid collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the U.S. found itself as the world’s only real superpower remaining.
For good or bad this left the U.S. as a global security force that could ensure a degree of stability while keeping a fracturing world from descending into chaos. For example. Why doesn’t North Korea invade South Korea? The U.S. would intervene. Why doesn’t mainland China invade Taiwan? The U.S. would intervene. Why doesn’t Russia gobble up Poland? The U.S. would intervene. Why doesn’t Iran attack Saudi Arabia? The U.S. would intervene. In literally every region of the world, the U.S. has become a “global police force.” If we were to downsize our military we would lose our global reach which would increase the chances of regional conflicts gradually breaking out around the world. Imagine turning out the only street light in a very dangerous big city neighborhood.
So, what about other countries in the world; are regional powers, able to significantly influence conflicts within their immediate region. For those of us old enough to remember the Falklands conflict in 1982, no clearer example needs to be looked for. It was a massive undertaking for the United Kingdom to take back the tiny Falkland islands from Argentina. This ten-week conflict began on Friday, 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded and occupied the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island, and the South Sandwich Island in an attempt to establish a claimed sovereignty. On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control. The war cost Britain £2.778 billion ($1.19 billion in 1982 dollars). Britain lost six ships, 34 aircraft and 225 men. This all had to be figured into the coming years budget just as the European economy began to see inflation and foreign trade slowing down.
Today Russia had had a difficult time sustaining its small military intervention in Syria for any length of time. Regional powers can attack neighboring countries, but at greater distances, they can only send a few ships, planes or drop a detachment of airborne soldiers to try and occupy and secure a safe place to bring in more military power. Today, the only country that can deploy massive carrier battle groups, or put a 100,000 battle-ready army halfway around the world is the U.S., just as we did in Afghanistan and Iraq. What this means is that no other country but the U.S. can tip the regional balance of power, and stop a strong regional power from bullying its smaller neighbors.
That is why U.S. presidents, doves, and hawks alike, after getting their national security briefings and gaining a better understanding of the global hot spots, usually decide to more or less maintain our global military reach. No U.S. president, Democrat or Republican can see reason to reduce our military that would make the U.S. a regional instead of a global power. No president wants to be responsible for watching the world descend into chaos. Countries may complain about the U.S. military publicly, but privately, wherever our allies feel threatened, they know who to turn to, the United States.
What about the argument for isolation? Why does the rest of the world matter so much to U.S. interests? Simply put, its economics. Almost 30% of the U.S. economy, depends on foreign trade. Any regional conflict that significantly disrupts global trade will severely hurt the U.S. economy. A global conflict would be devastating to the U.S. economy and could make the “Great Depression of the 1930’s” look like a hiccup.
That said there is a downside to being the only global superpower in the world, it’s very expensive. So, you either have it, or you don’t. Any large military budget cuts would reduce our capability very quickly and rapidly reduce our influence with global competitors. As U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower said to French President Vincent Auriol in 1953 regarding Frances attempt to hold on to its Asian colonies ” You either have the capability and reach to enforce your mandate or you don’t.” If you don’t have the military strength to firmly say to an aggressor “don’t try it, you’ll regret it”, you lose. Reduce the ships and you can’t move the troops or launch the planes. Cut the planes and you can’t protect the ships or the troops. Decrease the number of troops and you can’t defend the territory or restore order. The whole system requires critical mass or you have no credible response. That would make the U.S. just another regional power, in a world where everyone faces their immediate neighbors alone.
Let’s look at a possible, but improbable scenario. What happens if the U.S. & North Korea go to war? What happens to Asian commerce? Truthfully, it could mean the difference between the success & failure of some companies to continue to operate. How can a war half a world away affect so many sectors of U.S. business? What if you operate a chain of KIA Motors dealership? Where do the vehicles and parts come from if you can’t put ships to sea or land cargo aircraft? What if you are in the health industry, hospitals, medical equipment sales or R&D and you depend on Samsung robotics or microprocessors for the equipment you use or sell.
Say you are heavily invested or contracted with Taiwan based Evergreen Logistics Corporation, one of the largest logistics companies in the world. If the Korean Peninsula explodes, China will move to secure the Taiwan Strait (i.e. Formosa Strait), the 111.8-mile-wide strait that separates the island of Taiwan from mainland China. This strait connects to the East China Sea to the north, a primary shipping lane. It’s no secret that China has been creating islands in the South China Sea for military buildup and expansion. It’s been hinted at by international affairs experts that the same plan is in place for the East China Sea. This would raise the encroachment dispute between Japan and China regarding an island chain that both claim as theirs.
So, the next time you ask yourself why the U.S. military budget is so large, think economics, think stopping a strong regional bully and think keeping chaos in check. We all agree our allies need to contribute more, that our alliances like NATO or institutions such as the United Nations be more engaged in protecting those who can’t protect themselves, like Crimea. However, until we find ourselves on a very different global chessboard, the need for U.S. military global reach is something both the U.S. and the world can’t afford to do without.
We welcome visitors to come by TRG and to meet our group of globetrotters and to talk about the many issues regarding war and business. One of our most popular presentations is entitled “Commerce and Conflict”, where we discuss how war and terrorism affect business and business decision making. Just as we want the U.S. military to be the most powerful in the world, we want the U.S. economy to be a juggernaut of one success after another.
“The Economy Has Always Been The Engine For Our National Security.” – General James Mattis (USMC Ret.)
Current U.S. Secretary of Defense