February 13, 2018

Increased military, decreased diplomacy

US President Donald Trump has cited Russia and China as prime concerns and has requested the US Congress to increase its military budget. The request asks for Pentagon to receive a budget of $686 billion – one of the largest in US history.

Background

The U.S. Armed Forces are one of the largest militaries in terms of the number of personnel. It draws its personnel from a large pool of paid volunteers. The military consists of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. The nation boasts a large budget for its military and operations are among the most modernized in the world. Estimates suggest that at least 40 percent of the world's military expenditures are accounted by the US alone. The nation’s armed forces has significant capabilities in both defense and power projection. Overall, the country boasts around 800 military bases across the world. The US Airforce is the largest of its kind in the world. As of 2015, the nation had set aside an annual budget of $ 597 billion for the sake of maintaining and developing its military. The country is also fighting active wars in Afghanistan and has presence in regions like Syria.

The United States was the first country to manufacture nuclear weapons and is the only country to have used them in combat, with the separate bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. The U.S. and Russia possess comparable numbers of nuclear warheads; together, these two nations possess more than 90% of the world's nuclear warheads. As of 2017, the U.S. has an inventory of 6,800 nuclear warheads; of these, 2,800 are retired and awaiting dismantlement and 4,018 are part of the U.S. stockpile.

Relations between US and Russia has significantly deteriorated in the recent years after Russia annexed Crimea. The US has also blamed Russia for allegedly meddling in its 2016 Presidential elections. In 2017, the two countries have shut down embassies and have aggressively countered each other’s moves. Despite this, US President Donald Trump has enigmatically supported both Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin on many occasions.

Similarly, US’ ties with China has also grown tense. This is mostly due to US President Donald Trump’s accusing China of not abiding by fair trade practices. He has also expressed frustrations regarding China’s actions in connection to North Korea. South China Sea is another point of contention between the two countries.

Analysis

There are growing concerns within the US over the increased influence wielded by China and Russia globally. China in particular has significantly made investments in modernizing its large military operations and arsenal.

The US Pentagon has cited Russia and China as prime concerns and has requested the US Congress to increase its military budget. It has requested a budget of $686 billion. This would be one of the largest budgets in the nation’s history if it gets approved. The Trump administration is hoping in particular to update its nuclear arsenal.

In total, if approved, the Pentagon would get $617 billion and there would be an additional $69 billion to fund ongoing wars in fiscal year 2019. "It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model-gaining veto authority over other nations' economic, diplomatic, and security decisions," the budget document says.

"Great power competition, not terrorism, has emerged as the central challenge to US security and prosperity," said Under Secretary Of Defense David L. Norquist. The document also notes that China is "using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea." The document also adds, “Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors." It has also noted that Russia was seeking to undermine and destroy the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Mackenzie Eaglen, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said “this modest year-on-year increase will not allow the military to pursue anything resembling a rebuild along the lines touted by candidate Trump on the campaign trail to rapidly grow the Army, build a 350-ship Navy, and increase the combat Air Force.”

President Trump has often spoken about US military might and has equated it to the nation’s strength domestically and abroad. He has spoken highly of the military despite having not served in the Vietnam War after receiving five draft deferments. In February 2018, the White House confirmed that he had requested a military parade – something that has not occurred in over 20 years.

The White House has also been criticized for not appointing vacancies in the State Department. Multiple positions for diplomats have not been filled. The country still does not have an Ambassador for South Korea despite the region being highly sensitive. Academic Victor Cha was rumoured to be the next nominee but it was scrapped. Reports suggested that it was because he raised concerns over the administration’s current policies regarding North Korea. He was reportedly against an aggressive strike on North Korea. A number of US diplomats were also asked to leave Russia in 2017.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the latest developments indicate that under the leadership of President Trump, the US is less inclined towards diplomacy and wants to take a more militaristic approach to foreign policy. We believe that with multiple vulnerable regions across the world, diplomacy may be what’s required to diffuse the possibility of war.  

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