US President Donald Trump surprised many observers when he recently lamented excessive military spending by the US, Russia and China.
He reportedly wants all three nations to scale back military budgets and renew arms controls for world peace and security. Trump made his comments while hosting China’s Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office last week amid ongoing wrangling over bilateral trade relations.
“As you know China is spending a lot of money on military, so are we, so is Russia and those three countries I think can come together and stop the spending and spend on things that maybe are more productive towards long-term peace,” Trump said.
“It think it’s much better if we all got together and we didn’t make these weapons,” he added. His remarks were endorsed by the Chinese dignitary.
However, Trump's belated rhetoric hailing the benefits of arms controls is contradicted by relentless US moves to undermine existing treaties, as well as by Trump's ramping up of American military spending – which is already multiples of what China or Russia expends.
US military spending has been substantially increased during Trump’s past two years in office, from an already colossal level, to well over $700 billion annually. This figure is some three times what China spends and more than 10 times what Russia allocates for its military budget. Indeed, the US military budget alone is equivalent to the next 14 biggest military nations combined, including China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea and India.
Trump’s purported concern about excessive military spending is well placed. The total global allocation is estimated to be around $1.7 trillion annually. That figure is more than enough to solve problems of world hunger, drinking-water and sanitation needs, supply of life-saving medicines and education for every child on the planet – if the resources were redirected.
The objective financial data shows that it is the US upon which the onus lies to drastically reduce military spending. Arguably, it is because of America’s gargantuan arms industry and arsenal of weapons that the rest of the globe is obliged to follow suit out of nations’ concern to maintain a commensurate level of defense. If the globe is wasting crucial resources on war machines and armies it is largely because of the US and its distorted, inordinate build-up of weaponry. The excessive American military forces are bound to be seen by the other nations, including supposed allies, as a latent threat of aggression.
So Trump’s lamenting of excessive military financing is, on the face of it, laudable – but such lamenting is superficial, if not cynical. The president needs to put his money where his mouth is, and show true global leadership by, first and foremost, slashing US military profligacy. If Washington were to take that step, then all other nations would likely follow suit and begin scaling back their expenditures on defense. The world would hence be a lot safer and more secure too.
Of course, Trump’s aspirations for peace are somewhat naive. The entire American corporate capitalist economy is addicted to monstrous military splurging. The Pentagon’s military-industrial complex has since the Second World War become a chronic “fix” for propping up the US economy, which would otherwise tank if not for the annual subsidizing through byzantine military contracts.
Trump may, in a moment of seeming clarity, bemoan the chronic spending, but he perhaps does not understand that what he is bemoaning is the systematic, pernicious nature of American capitalism. In other words, if the world were to scale back military spending and redirect to more productive, humane projects, the shift would require a new paradigm for the American economy – one that is arguably more democratic and rational, rather than the chronic militarism that has prevailed for more than seven decades.
Another illustration of Trump’s naivety, or facile understanding, is that the US has in recent years steadfastly refused to enter into normal diplomatic negotiations with Russia and China validating arms controls.
Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the US, recently remarked on how Washington has rebuffed all attempts by Moscow to engage in constructive dialogue to restore the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. It was under the Trump administration that the US has now cancelled the INF based on dubious claims of Russia violating the pact. The third remaining arms control treaty, the New START is due to expire in 2021, and so far the US has shown no sign of reciprocating with Russia to maintain that accord.
The US has thus unilaterally spurned dialogue with Russia in upholding arms controls. It has unilaterally acted aggressively towards Moscow and Beijing with relentless build-up of military forces around each country. Indeed, it is Washington that is inciting a new arms races globally and, in doing so, gravely putting world peace and security at risk.
The American president may therefore pronounce words of peace, security and arms reductions. But his words are rather meaningless given the systematic and insatiable militaristic condition of American capitalism and its concomitant conduct of aggression. Actions speak louder than words.