LAHIRI: U.S. relies on armed forces to enact goals


Column: Ethical Questions

In light of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit to be held in London next month, the U.S. is reconsidering its interests in the 70-year-old military alliance. 

President Donald J. Trump has vocalized concerns about the disproportionate amount of money the U.S. spends on the organization. In 2018, he suggested the U.S. withdraw from it entirely. Since then, he has expressed how unfairly the U.S. has been treated by European countries who benefit from NATO, and demanded that these countries increase their contributions to NATO. 

It is true that the U.S. accounts for the majority of NATO funding, as it makes up approximately 70% of the defense expenditures made by all NATO members. Furthermore, the U.S. spends a little more than 3% of its total gross domestic product toward defense, while the majority of NATO members spend less than 2%. 

But the U.S. dwarfs every country in the world in total defense expenditures. The $649 billion which the U.S. allocates toward defense is more than the defense budgets of the next seven countries combined. Trump’s 2019 budget proposal includes a request of $686 billion specifically for the Department of Defense, which is meant to “address the scope and pace of our competitors’ and adversaries’ ambitions and capabilities." 

Yet, it is clear by the already massive amount of money that the U.S. spends on defense in relation to other countries that a budget increase reflects more than a need to compete with other countries — it reflects the influence of a deeply-ingrained identity that depends on military force, strength and coercion as a means to exert power over the rest of the world. 

The U.S. has a long history of achieving its objectives through military action. In Latin America alone, the U.S. has orchestrated at least six military coups from 1964 to 2009. Through NATO, the U.S. has deployed its military strength to intervene in the 1992 Bosnian War, 1998-99 Kosovo War and 2011 Libyan Civil War, among other conflicts. 

In its 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.S. took largely unilateral action to achieve its objectives surrounding the War on Terror, in an effort to have total control over its response to the 9/11 terror attacks.

Whereas many NATO members also have a history of military interventions throughout the world, the U.S. is unique in that it has withstood the shift in preferred foreign policy instruments that its European allies have experienced. A comparison of American and European foreign policy decisions reflects this shift. 

Aside from France and the United Kingdom, European Union (EU) countries mostly focus on “peace support” as opposed to military actions. To this end, European countries do not take unilateral military actions in the same way that the U.S. does, and rely on “political cooperation and the allocation of resources” instead. 

The divergence between the identities of the U.S. and its Cold War allies has taken its toll on many intergovernmental organizations, including NATO. The alliances like NATO lack utility and dissolve when there is no longer a threat to bind countries together, according to influential political scientists like Kenneth Waltz and John Mearsheimer.

But Trump has mustered up a renewed commitment to NATO ahead of the summit next month, with the expectation that allies make efforts to share the burden of its costs, to the tune of a $100 billion increase in defense spending. 

Whether or not NATO’s European member countries will again experience a shift in identity in response to the revitalization of their military capabilities, it remains that the U.S. will continue to depend on the use of military force to achieve its objectives with or without help from NATO. 

Anuska Lahiri is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science. Her column, “Ethical Questions,” runs on alternate Mondays.

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