In his recent opinion piece, “National Defense Deters War”, Col. J. Karl Miller quotes George Washington as saying: “There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet the enemy.” In other words, war preparation deters war. The basic question regarding that assumption is: “How’s that working for us?”
Unfortunately, World War II did not produce peace in terms of the elimination of deadly threats to the U.S. Instead, it shuffled the players, improved the weapons and developed new targets for something called the Cold War. Miller describes the Cold War as “a standoff between the U.S. and the USSR, which was effectively terminated with the collapse of the latter.” It is true that the hapless, centralized Soviet economic system collapsed and the various Soviet Republics were freed from the tyranny of a repressive Soviet regime. However, the standoff was not effectively terminated as Miller suggests. In fact, in some ways, the so-called nuclear balance of terror is more fragile than at the height of the Cold War.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons, including those in Ukraine, became Russian missiles, the threat of nuclear war was far from eliminated. In 2001, it was reported that Russia’s nuclear weapons command and control system had seriously deteriorated and its network of early-warning satellites was also on the verge of collapse. To date, there is no evidence the Russians have been fully able to correct that situation. Thus, both the U.S. and Russia have thousands of strategic nuclear missiles on hair-trigger, with the definite possibility of using them against each other in cases of mechanical failure, computer error or purposeful launch, according to policy guidelines such as those in George Bush’s Nuclear Posture Review, which lists Russia and China as prime targets for U.S. hydrogen bombs. Incidentally, launch to landing time for Russian strategic missiles, including those aimed at various targets in Missouri, such as Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Knoster, is approximately 25 minutes.
Clearly, the U.S. did not win the Cold War, if winning is measured in terms of the elimination of massive deadly threats to our country. The Nuclear Sword of Damocles, of which John Kennedy spoke, still hangs over our heads by a slender thread. As U.S. Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin once said: “You can no more win a war than an earthquake.” What about Vietnam and Iraq? Certainly neither of those wars have made the world safe for democracy. Rather, both conflicts have caused wider conflict, and in the case of Iraq, not only did a massive U.S. military arsenal not prevent war, it provided George W. Bush and his neo-cons the tools with which to initiate war against people who had not attacked the U.S., and who posed no imminent threat to our homeland.
Contrary to the view of many, the U.S. warfare system is not designed only for national defense or to provide a balance of power as Miller suggests. Sadly, there is a much larger purpose. On March 23, 2000, my friend of many years, the late Rear Adm. Eugene J. Carroll presented a speech at MU, which was sponsored by the MU Peace Studies Program. Carroll, a former Pentagon insider, served as Director of U.S. Military Operations for all U.S. forces in Europe and the Middle East. In that speech, Adm. Carroll stated:
“We are the only nation in history that has formally divided the globe into military zones and appointed a general or admiral to be commander-in-chief within each zone. We keep a quarter of a million uniformed troops permanently assigned to those commanders, heavily armed, fully combat-ready, to intervene militarily in not one but two conflicts anywhere on earth and to win both wars nearly simultaneously. This aggressive posture is called forward presence. In truth, it is no more than gunboat diplomacy, which, through the implied threat of military action, is intended to influence and control events to our advantage.”
“This confrontational approach to foreign relations is extremely negative because it is based upon coercion rather than efforts to develop constructive approaches to mutual benefit...” and, “It also creates pressure to use military force when significant issues lead to public awareness of pending problems with another nation.”
In his article, Miller states: “...a balance of power among armed nations is normally sufficient to prevent occurrences of all-out war.”
Such stability may temporarily alleviate war between the relatively balanced countries, but a continuous, all-out unilateral effort to create ever more powerful national warfare capabilities, usually destroys the balance. And, in that situation, those with bloated military establishments, such as that of the U.S., usually go well beyond the balance as they seek to achieve global dominance.
In addressing that point, Carroll said: “Not one of the imperial regimes of history has ever secured a permanent place in the world order through military supremacy. ... One truth stands out in history — every nation or empire which would subject others will ultimately fail if they attempt to base their dominion on military force. ... There are two reasons for this. First, the people of the hegemony will finally refuse to make the sacrifices in blood and treasure necessary to maintain military control over others. Second, the subjugated will ultimately rise in opposition to reject the sovereign.”
Carroll’s words are a lesson that President Bush might learn if he and Congress were to seriously take into account the public opinion poll data regarding the war in Iraq and his well developed plans for an attack on Iran.
At one time in history, it was possible to trace the spread of imperialism by counting up the colonies under the domination of an aggressor nation. Today, America’s version of the colony is found in its acquisition and operation of military bases throughout the world. It was estimated in 2005 that the U.S. had some 737 military bases in 130 countries, including those in Germany, Japan, South Korea, Italy and the U.K. Currently, it is not easy to assess the exact size or configuration of the U.S. empire, but unquestionably, the U.S. military footprint is gigantic and continues to grow with President Bush’s incredible doctrine, which endorses the concept of preventive war.
Republicans and Democrats alike would do well to listen to Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio. Both are asking us why the Germans, Japanese, British, Italians, South Koreans and others cannot defend themselves. They also are telling us the continued U.S. presence in Iraq only adds fuel to the fire of that conflict. Additionally, they clearly demonstrate that we are bankrupting our treasury in a quixotic quest to create a global empire. We should listen to both men by telling our allies it is time for them to defend themselves. It is also time we abided by provisions of the U.S.Russian-signed Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by mutually de-alerting our missiles and jointly eliminating the U.S./Russian nuclear weapons arsenals. We must also immediately halt the development of U.S. projects aimed at the weaponization of outer space. And, it goes without saying that it is well beyond time for the U.S. to exit Iraq. Above all, we must recognize that military imperialism does not deter war. It only makes us weakly strong and strongly weak.
Bill Wickersham is an adjunct professor of peace studies at MU and a member of Veterans for Peace.