Resurgent Militarism

by Michael Klare and
the Bay Area Chapter of the Inter-University Committee

excerpted from the book


edited Holly Sklar

South End Press, 1980


The U.S. is being plunged into another era of confrontation, intervention, and resurgent militarism. The Pentagon's unremitting crusade for increased military appropriations gains momentum with each new budget year, and the Carter Administration has pledged to reduce social spending in order to augment the nation's war coffers. Although U.S. policy makers appear committed to eventual adoption of a new strategic arms limitation pact with the Soviet Union (SALT-II), they have launched new nuclear weapons programs which will surely spur comparable Soviet moves and thus further inflame an already volatile arms race. And despite denials that the United States seeks a first-strike nuclear capability against the USSR, the introduction of new counterforce weapons like the M-X missile will make such an attack appear increasingly plausible, and thus push us all closer to the brink of a nuclear catastrophe.

Along with the increased danger of atomic war, we also face a growing risk of U.S. involvement in future non-nuclear conflicts. As the government of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi collapsed in Iran-and along with it the U.S. policy of converting selected Third World regimes into regional gendarmes-U.S. strategists began planning an expanded U. S. police presence abroad. President Carter has already called for the formation of a rapid-reaction strike force for possible use in the Middle East and Africa, and the Pentagon budget will be raised in order to finance the procurement of additional conventional (i.e., non-nuclear) munitions. And given the growing tendency of conservative leaders to exploit the Soviet threat issue for political gain, it is increasingly likely that the Carter Administration will engage in military show of force operations to demonstrate that it has the will to stand up to the Russians in contested areas abroad.

As always the public's awareness of the issues blurred by the government's omnipresent cloak of secrecy and by the media's persistent failure to challenge the myths of national security. In the Congress, meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats argue only over the velocity of the unquestioned arms buildup, leaving the real questions of war or peace in the thermonuclear age largely unexplored. And, over the past few years, pro-military forces have often dominated public discussion of war-peace issues through a lavishly funded grassroots campaign designed to persuade us that the United States is about to fall behind in the superpower arms race.

But while the promoters of militarism represent powerful political forces, we should not assume that their future success is guaranteed. The great majority of Americans stand to suffer enormously from this new militarism, not only from the very real prospect of thermonuclear war, but, from the progressive deterioration of our quality of life and through curbs on our civil liberties. We believe that the great majority can be rallied to defeat resurgent militarism...



Increased Military Spending

Despite President Carter's pre-election pledge to reduce U.S. military spending, the defense budget will reach new heights in the years to come. Projected Pentagon spending for Fiscal 1980 was set at $124 billion, "real" increase (after accounting for inflation) of 3 percent, and the total will keep rising each successive year in line with President Carter's pledge to strengthen our NATO-oriented forces. Furthermore, as the Pentagon proceeds into production of costly new weapons systems now in the development stage-the M-X missile, and M-l tank, Trident ll, and the nuclear-powered Strike Cruiser-the defense budget will have to expand at an even faster pace, reaching $200 billion well before the end of the decade.

Defense expenditures at these projected levels will ensure the continued prominence of the military-industrial complex within the U.S. economy, and will discourage any effort to convert arms facilities to civilian use. And since federal revenues are not expected to grow as rapidly as projected military spending, due to taxpayers' resistance and the sluggish state of the economy, the Pentagon and its corporate partners will find themselves in increasing competition with other sectors for scarce government funds. In order, then, to defeat anticipated efforts by trade unionists, urban politicians, minority groups and others to protect existing social benefits (many of which are threatened by the current budget crunch), the pro-military forces feel compelled to step up their anti-Soviet propaganda and to take other steps to create a climate favorable to their escalating fiscal demands. Notwithstanding the domestic origins of these militaristic pressures, their consequences for U.S. foreign policy and the evolution of U.S. relations with the Soviet Union will be profound; adoption of a new SALT agreement, for instance, could be blocked entirely by right wing forces opposed to any checks on the growth of the U.S. strategic arsenal...


Worldwide Militarism and Trilateral Arms Exports

The spread of advanced military hardware and nuclear technology from the advanced countries to the Third World has, over the past few years, attained flood proportions. According to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Third World military spending quadrupled between 1965 and 1976, and now tops $100 billion per year. The value of Third World arms imports, meanwhile has risen from S2.5 billion in 1965 to $9.8 billion in 1976, and is expected to reach much higher in the years ahead. Not only are Third World countries buying more weapons than ever, they are also ordering the most sophisticated types available. Thus, countries which only a few years ago were armed with obsolete hand-me-downs acquired through various aid programs are now receiving the world's most advanced missiles, PGMs, fighter planes, and warships. And, as demonstrated by the October War, these deliveries insure that future conflicts will be fought at ever-increasing levels of violence and destructiveness.

The booming trade in conventional arms is being fueled by a variety of political and economic factors, including the arms suppliers' desires to acquire political leverage over recipient governments, and the efforts of the industrial nations to reduce their balance-of-payments deficits vis-a-vis the OPEC nations. At present four nations-the U.S. (with 49 percent of the market), the USSR (28 percent), France (5 percent) and Great Britain (4 percent) dominate the world arms trade. Increasingly, however, other producers- including some Third World nations-are joining the weapons trade on their own. As competition between the arms producers for foreign markets has intensified, moreover, so have their efforts-legal and otherwise-to induce Third World governments to acquire increasingly costly and sophisticated military hardware. Thus, despite President Carter's promise to reduce arms sales, U.S. military exports reached record levels in 1979 and are expected to continue rising in the years ahead.

Similar dynamics can be found in the nuclear field, causing an ever-increasing flow of atomic technology to the non-nuclear powers. At least fourteen "developing" nations now possess or are building nuclear reactors and a number of them-including India, Israel, and South Africa-have acquired the technology to convert spent reactor fuel into weapons-grade material. And despite the highly-publicized efforts of the existing nuclear powers to halt the proliferation of atomic munitions, it is unlikely that they can prevent still more countries from joining the nuclear club in the 1980s and 1990s. As in the case of the conventional arms trade, efforts to halt the transfer of nuclear technology are being hampered by giant corporations intent on increasing exports.

Unless a serious effort is made to control the trade in conventional and nuclear military technology, the prognosis is for an ever-increasing rate of militarization in the Third World and an attendant increase in the risk of war. Moreover, since the major arms producers are increasingly involved in the supply of military technical services (training, maintenance, logistical support) to Third World armies, there is growing danger that the great powers will be drawn into otherwise local conflicts. (The severity of this risk was clearly demonstrated by the October War of 1973, when both Russian and American military personnel were dispatched to the battlefronts to supervise the unloading of emergency arms shipments.) And while U.S. officials argue that timely arms deliveries can actually be used to prevent war, by offsetting local arms imbalances, the rate of arms trafficking has become so great that such balancing acts appear increasingly ephemeral-and dangerous.

These developments present a frightening picture of the world to be. Yet many U.S. Ieaders advocate policies which will accelerate rather than reverse these trends. In the following section, we will examine the various political and economic forces which promote militarism in our society.

The Political-Economic Forces Behind Resurgent Militarism The accelerating drift towards militarism and confrontation is taking place at a critical juncture in U. S. political history. During and after World War II, a governing consensus was established which has dominated U.S. politics until very recently. This consensus forged by the various interest groups which formed the core of the Democratic Party (which had become the majority party during the New Deal), was based on support for the Welfare State and a foreign policy of rigid anticommunism. Together, these two principles can be described as Cold War liberalism. Under this banner, leaders of both major parties joined in promoting limited social reforms at home and expanded U.S. military commitments abroad. This alliance was based, however, on one essential precondition: an expanding U.S. economy.

Two events undermined this consensus. First, U.S. foreign policy suffered an unprecedented defeat in Vietnam. Not only was the war costly both in political and economic terms, but it also shattered a central element of the expansionist ideology-the presumption of U.S. invincibility. Second, the economic downturn of the 1970s marked the end of the long postwar boom. Because it is now impossible to have both more butter and more guns, U.S. rulers are being forced to favor one or the other. Events of the past few years suggest that most major political interests have chosen to favor guns. Cold War liberalism is rapidly becoming a Cold War without the liberalism. In announcing a projected Fiscal 1980 Defense Department budget of $124 billion, the New York Times noted on 16 November 1978, that "Administration sources said that the Defense Department was especially gratified because Carter has decided to cut about $15 billion out of the normal growth of a range of social and domestic programs" while raising military spending by some $ 12 billion. "Officials indicate that the 'guns and butter' argument waged within the administration has now, in fact, been settled by Carter in favor of the Defense Department."

From the breakup of the original Cold War consensus, two forces have emerged: one pushing for a sharp and immediate move to the right, the other advocating a more tempered but nevertheless militaristic policy. The first represents a continuation of the prevailing right wing momentum. It is pushing for an aggressive, confrontational foreign policy that implies a dramatic increase in the militarization of U.S. Iife, an increase that has already begun. The locus of these interests is the right wing of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and groups further to the right. Their economic backbone is the high-technology, military-oriented industries which have become such an important segment of U.S. capitalism since World War II. These industries require heavy public expenditures to keep afloat, and military/space contracts-because they do not involve competition with the "private" sector-have traditionally provided the means to this end. Located primarily in the South and the West, these industries supply much of the money and personnel for right wing political forces in the U.S. Their allies in the CIA, the Pentagon, and key committees of Congress peddle their interests with persistence and enthusiasm. They have also managed to convince some labor and community leaders that the best solution to unemployment is more government contracts for their companies, thereby creating the appearance that a broad coalition supports continued military spending.

On foreign policy issues, the Right can call on other allies. Groups like the Committee on the Present Danger and the Coalition for Peace Through Strength have mobilized many politicians- including some with impressive liberal credentials-for an acrimonious assault on the policies of detente. Many pro-lsraeli groups have also joined this effort in the belief that continued U.S. aid to Israel can best be assured in an atmosphere of heightened East-West tension. And many of the Cold War intellectuals who were discredited by their support for the Vietnam War have discovered that its once again fashionable to publish studies depicting the emerging Soviet threat.

Recently, the Right has experienced its greatest gains on the domestic front, by exploiting grassroots opposition to big government and high taxation, and by promoting pro-family causes (antiabortion, anti-ERA, anti-gay rights) which have attracted a dedicated band of crusaders. Although these issues are apparently devoid of foreign policy implications, it is not too difficult to detect reverberations of militarism in the Right's domestic platform, and reactionary social attitudes in its military policies. Prominent militarists like James Schlesinger [who served as Carter's Energy Secretary until August 1979-ed.] have charged, for instance, that the public's preoccupation with U.S internal problems-inequality, urban decay, poverty, pollution, etc.-has undermined its will to resist future Soviet incursions elsewhere.

The influence of the Right on U. S. policy is clear. During Gerald Ford's last year as president, a substantial growth in military spending, the Mayaguez incident, and renewed talk of limited nuclear war-all bore witness to this influence. But militarists in the Republican Party were not satisfied; the further to the right that Ford moved, the more rightward Reagan had to go in order to outflank him. The result was a 1976 Republican foreign policy plank that criticized Ford's own reactionary administration for not being hawkish enough. Even before the election, the Right had succeeded in forcing a return to the language of nuclear brinkmanship that prevailed in the 1950s. In 1975, for example, Secretary Schlesinger was able to threaten the use of tactical nuclear weapons against North Korea, and have Ford back him up.

None of this is particularly surprising. What is remarkable is the surge that the Right has experienced since Jimmy Carter assumed office in 1977.

At first, Carter's election and trilateralist policy suggested a relaxation of Cold War militarism. No sooner had Carter leaned in the trilateral direction than the Democrats' traditional cold warriors began a counteroffensive. Organizing around opposition to the SALT talks and other tension-reducing efforts, groups like the Committee on the Present Danger have successfully forced Carter to move towards the right. Though largely excluded from top decision making positions with the administration (James Schlesinger, the former Secretary of Energy, was an important exception), Cold War Democrats have seized upon Soviet maneuvers in Africa and elsewhere to push Carter's policies in the direction of confrontation. Although they lost on the B-l bomber, they can take credit for such developments as: a stiffening of the U.S. position on SALT; the transformation of human rights language from a critique of Latin American dictators to an anti-Soviet crusade; the decision to accelerate development of the cruise missile, and, more importantly, the M-X; and Carter's decision to expand U.S. civil defense efforts.

There are other good reasons why the trilateralists have been unable to outflank the militarists. The military/space sector has become an important part of the U.S. economy, and many members of the Trilateral Commission have important ties to the armaments industries or to the communities in which they are located. Because of their emphasis on Europe and the Middle East the trilateralists are as hostile to the Soviets as traditional cold warriors-they just see the advantages of selective cooperation on peripheral issues. The trilateralists would like to cut defense spending, but they are no more prepared to surrender U. S. military supremacy than the Reaganites. Indeed, given their commitment to U.S. dominance within the trilateral framework, they really have no choice but to strengthen U.S. military capabilities-and especially its NATO-oriented forces. Thus Carter has advocated a substantial increase in defense spending even while affirming the need for budget cuts to control inflation. Without the flamboyant rhetoric and pugnacious style of Reagan, in other words, the Carter Administration's heading for a renewed Cold War, with U. S. defense intellectuals and policy makers solidly behind it.


The Domestic Impact of Resurgent Militarism

We now turn to our final, and ultimately most important question: What effects, now and in the future, will resurgent militarism have on our day-to-day lives. For no matter how deeply concerned we may be by recent developments in foreign policy, we can hardly expect to arouse meaningful public opposition so long as these issues are seen as being disconnected from our daily lives. It is essential, therefore, that we examine the domestic economic and social consequences of the impending Cold War. The economic consequences of escalating military spending are dire, although the myopic eye sees only the benefits reaped by a few privileged corporations and communities. True, the infusion of Pentagon funds into a company may temporarily boost the sagging fortunes of a particular locale, but in the long run it will have recessionary effects on the economy as a whole. Military spending increases inflation because it generates goods which cannot be recycled into the economy. Military spending contributes to both inflation and stagnation by rewarding corporations for maximizing their costs of production through "cost-plus-fixed-fee" contracts (rather than, as in conventional capitalist enterprises, seeking to reduce costs through efficient use of technology and materials), thereby promoting waste and chronic cost overruns. Furthermore, by feeding industries that are so capital-intensive, military spending creates fewer jobs than an equivalent amount of civilian spending, and what jobs it does create are both unstable and disproportionately highly skilled.

Militarism's exacerbation of economic ills, coupled with the declining competitiveness of U.S. goods in the world market (caused in part, by the diversion of U.S. scientific and technical resources from the civilian to the military sector) and the increased prices of oil and other raw materials, means that stagnation and inflation are likely to remain with us indefinitely. And, to the degree that military expenditures consume public resources, needed social programs will be reduced commensurately-a process that has already begun with the new Carter budget plan. Needless to say, the biggest losers in this process are those who suffer the most already: poor people, people on fixed incomes, and those unable to find work.

There are secondary consequences as well. High unemployment rates divide worker from worker. Union members see affirmative action for women and racial minorities as intolerable competition for scarce jobs. The hard-won gains of the 1960s in the areas of civil rights and equal opportunity are jeopardized; advances are simply out of the question. Groups fighting for public funds are forced to compete with each other for the leftovers of an economic pie already carved up and consumed by militarism.

Militarism also leaves its stamp upon the cultural and social fabric of our nation. A garrison society turns irresistibly toward authoritarian methods; it promotes the centralization of society, the mystification of expertise, and repression of nonconformist styles and beliefs. Military preparations require unassailable secrecy, and thus, in the name of national secrecy, the power of the military and the presidency grows, with a commensurate loss in self-government.

The growing sophistication of military systems makes it easy for political decisions to be disguised as technical matters and thus further removed from public discussions and debate. By controlling the terms of discourse, the national security elite obscures the real choices open to us and thereby insures that the decision making process will become increasingly undemocratic.

Since, in an era of economic stagnation, rising military expenditures inevitably consume funds needed for social programs, large-scale repression may ultimately be needed to quell resistance to further cuts in already dwindling public services. Indeed, by ordering layoffs of municipal workers and encouraging the public to lower its expectations, the prevailing authorities have already instilled an atmosphere of insecurity and resignation in many communities. And when such self-induced repression fails, there is always the imperative of national security to legitimize the use of more forceful measures such as those contained in proposed revisions of the Criminal Code.

There is also danger of more blatantly ideological repression. A new McCarthyism, predicated on inflated estimates of the Soviet threat, might provide a way to mobilize popular support military, or at least to neutralize the opposition. Such a campaign would surely appeal to those ideologues who feel a nostalgic attachment to the original Cold War epoch-when such disquieting issues as racism, sexism, and environmentalism posed little challenge to the prevailing social order. As economic conditions deteriorate, such a campaign might also appear attractive to those of the middle and lower-middle classes who fear the loss of their jobs and traditional styles of living. Such a campaign, by focusing attention on an external specter, would also provide a way of making domestic problems seen less important; it would provide a facile remedy to the "crisis of confidence" in prevailing institutions and would simultaneously provide an excuse for disciplining the media. But even without explicit orchestration from the top, the media recently have been enthusiastically publicizing the Right's distorted assessments of Soviet military power thereby discouraging substantive public debate on such issues as SALT and the procurement of new strategic weapons.

All struggles for social progress then must confront the new militarism; anyone who fights for a change in national priorities must confront the argument that "national security" requires higher defense expenditures, even at the expense of long-overdue social reforms. Moreover, everyone working in this country for social and economic justice will have to join in the struggle against resurgent militarism and interventionism or risk the ruination of all their efforts(in a new round of Cold War hysteria. Those who propose real changes in American society must therefore address the issues of militarism and foreign policy head on. We can no longer evade them; foreign policy is inseparable from domestic policy. And the fundamental issues of foreign policy will be placed on the agenda for public discussion only if we place them there.

We are all potential casualties in a new Cold War. We must ring these issues into every possible political arena: into electoral campaigns, political parties, unions, social movements, and churches. he entire structure of U.S. foreign and military policy must be understood and challenged if we are to achieve a livable future. We must recognize that there is no division between domestic and foreign policy, no way to separate ourselves from our nation's actions around he world. We cannot create a decent society at home so long as national priorities are distorted by militarism and its antecedents...


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