By Richard Feinberg and Peter Hakim. Richard Feinberg and Peter Hakim of the Inter-American Dialogue write regularly on global economics.
The Christian Science Monitor
THE more Washington spends on military defense, the less it has to respond to other-than-military challenges to United States security. In the post-cold-war world, this leads to the paradoxical conclusion that the higher our military budget, the less secure we may be. It is not hard to understand why US leaders continue to identify national security with military defense. For a half-century, the main threat to US security came from the military prowess of a hostile superpower. Now, however, the main dangers we face come not from a military adversary but from a more complex array of challenges. Military outlays are irrelevant in addressing these problems.
There is little risk that any nation or group of nations will launch an armed attack against the US in the foreseeable future. To be sure, some of our security problems are still military in nature. Saddam Hussein reminded us that the collapse of the Soviet Union did not end aggression. Several US allies in the third world are vulnerable; Washington should be prepared to help defend a Kuwait or a South Korea against aggression, and aid friendly democratic governments against local insurgent forces (though guerrilla wars are a declining phenomenon).
Other military hazards include the spread of nuclear weapons technology and new and old forms of terrorism. But even taken together, these concerns do not add up to any clear and present dangers for the US.
Moreover, US military operations may not provide the best response to armed conflicts or threats in today's world. Multilateral peacekeeping is more effective in many cases. United Nations brokered settlements have ended many civil wars - and UN forces are helping to structure new political orders in places as different as Cambodia and El Salvador. Yet UN peace efforts are starved for funds, while Congress refuses to fulfill basic US commitments to the UN. Making good on these commitments would take less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the Pentagon's budget, and surely enhance our security more than another fighter bomber or nuclear submarine.
Nor can US armed strength halt the instability caused by the breakup of the Soviet Union, or reduce the likelihood of violent conflict in or between new republics. …