Spend more on making wealth, not war
By Anatol Lieven
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: June 25 2007 17:44 | Last updated: June 25 2007 17:44
In recent years US spending on the military, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and military aid to particular allies has exceeded US foreign development aid by more than 10 times. This is despite the fact that the administration, its Republican supporters, the Democrats and the vast majority of the foreign policy community all agree in principle that such development is critical to the struggle against Islamist extremism.
Even odder is the fact that, although US security structures remain profoundly shaped by their cold war origins, in this regard the US establishment has forgotten its own successful record during the cold war, especially in parts of east and south-east Asia.
The preference for military spending extends to many Democrats and dominates the US Congress. Thus a recent bipartisan paper entitled “The Case for Larger Ground Forces” recommends that “both the army and the Marine Corps must grow as fast as possible, and for the foreseeable future”, by at least 25,000 men a year, at immense cost. This echoes the views of the leading Democratic candidates for president in 2008.
Its authors are Frederick Kagan, a neo-conservative at the rightwing American Enterprise Institute, seen as the intellectual architect of the Bush administration’s present “surge” strategy in Iraq, and Michael O’Hanlon, a Democratic security analyst at the centrist Brookings Institution.*
Even US newspapers supportive of the Iraq war are now replete with articles describing not only the monstrous incompetence with which that war was planned, but also the numerous brutal overreactions by US troops that have greatly boosted insurgent support.
Mr Kagan and Mr O’Hanlon, however, circle the world looking for occasions – sometimes bizarrely improbable – for US invasion. These include Iran’s nuclear programme, state collapse in Pakistan, regime collapse in North Korea and even a Chinese attack on Russia. The US might be forced to occupy the Saudi oilfields if a future Saudi regime began to destroy them “out of a fundamentalist commitment to turn the historical clock back to the first millennium”, they warn.
Quite apart from the fact that these operations would lead to catastrophes that would dwarf Iraq, these ideas raise the rarely asked question of whether the US has to be involved in some of these places at all. If the North Korean regime collapses, is that not a matter for the neighbouring states – China, South Korea and Russia – not the US?
Equally important is why, even after Iraq, do so many US analysts instinctively reach for military means? And why are they so indifferent to using economic aid to help prevent crises in the first place? During the cold war, Democratic and Republican administrations alike recognised that economic development was at least as important as military spending in resisting the spread of communism.
Generous US development aid from the 1950s to the 1970s, and openness to exports from key states, helped transform economies across east and south- east Asia. Indeed, it continues to pay dividends in the resistance of populations in Malaysia and Indonesia to Islamist extremism. This record completely contradicts the popular view in the US – and the US Congress – that the only successful aid programme during the cold war was the Marshall Plan, and that all others failed in a welter of corruption.
Today, US aid even to such a vital state as Pakistan remains pitiful by comparison to cold war figures; in Afghanistan, meanwhile, US spending on the war there from 2001-2006 was nine times the level of spending on economic development.
The pattern is not restricted to the Muslim world and the “war on terror”. In other important parts of the world, US geopolitical ambitions are running far ahead of its willingness to aid regional allies. Last year, Chinese aid to the Philippines – a former US colony – exceeded that of the US four times over. The same is true of much of Africa. In Ukraine, which the US wants to bring into Nato, US aid is still vastly exceeded by Russian energy subsidies. The US is even being outspent in parts of Latin America by Venezuela.
The same narrow vision is true of trade policy. In the cold war, the US deliberately kept its markets open to South Korean, Taiwanese and Thai imports even when these markets were largely closed to US goods, so as to strengthen these countries against the communist threat. Today, US trade officials negotiating with Muslim allies insist on full free trade and often on US advantages. There are of course real US economic interests to defend – but this approach does not help countries such as Pakistan to develop their economies and resist Islamist unrest.
A key problem lies in the US political structure. The US Congress pays enormous sums for the military out of fear of foreign enemies and desire for particular pieces of “pork” for their constituents and donors and because military spending is a vast, undeclared programme of state industrial development. Foreign aid, by contrast, has no such domestic constituencies. To increase it radically would require not just farsighted leadership, but considerable political courage. To sit behind desks in Washington and play war games on maps of Pakistan requires none of these things.
*Frederick Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, ‘The Case for Larger Ground Forces’, Bridging the Foreign Policy Divide series, The Stanley Foundation, April 2007
The writer is a senior research fellow at the New America Foundation and co-author, with John Hulsman, of ‘Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World’ (Pantheon 2006)