Right now, the wealthiest, most scientifically advanced country in history is being brought to its knees by a virus it knew was coming. And having failed to adequately invest in pandemic protection measures, the U.S. government now is fighting a war against COVID-19. But, if the past two decades have taught us anything, we should know that “war” is the wrong metaphor and our military is the wrong tool.
Contrary to what President Trump, former vice-president Joe Biden and others might say, we are not “at war” with COVID-19. Given the unprecedented nature of this virus, it makes sense that we would be drawn to the idea that mobilizing for a health crisis requires us to have a wartime mindset. However, equating a “determined, coordinated national response” with war mobilization, rather than with community care, is precisely the problem. In fact, part of the reason we’re in this predicament is that we hollowed out America’s public health system in favor of military spending.
America isn’t ready for this pandemic because our government has been spending money on the wrong things. Instead of putting money towards fighting disease or alleviating suffering, the U.S. spent enormous sums over the past couple of decades on war and war preparation.
The federal budget “is the skeleton of the state stripped of all misleading ideologies,” economist Joseph Schumpeter once wrote. In other words, national budget choices reflect the most basic structure of who we are as a people. In the U.S., federal budget priorities have yielded a body politic well suited for war even as public health, education and infrastructure all have atrophied. Each year, Congress allocates the great majority of discretionary federal dollars to the Department of Defense, the nuclear weapons program in the Department of Energy, and the Veteran’s Administration for care of veterans. We have stockpiled thousands of nuclear weapons but not enough ventilators.
Since 9/11, each Administration has thrown more money at the Pentagon. The current military budget is approaching twice what it was in 2000, in inflation-controlled dollars, with the rest of the budget increasing at a much lower rate. According to our estimations at the Watson Institute’s Costs of War Project, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 now totals over $6 trillion. To put that in context, this year’s allocations for the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the National Institutes of Health together were $48 billion, less than 1% of the wars’ costs.
It’s been widely pointed out that the Trump administration’s budget for fiscal year 2021 made the spectacularly ill-timed choice to add yet more money to the Pentagon budget and cut from the Department of Health and Human Services, including the CDC and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The total war-related budget proposed for FY2021 is a whopping $1.2 trillion.
With the rest of the government so hollowed out, it is no wonder we look to the military to support public health. Decades of high military spending have made the military ever more central to how the American public sees the government’s purpose, ever more utilized, and even more likely to be seen as our surge capacity.
But we can redefine that purpose, not as finding dragons to slay overseas but as investing in health and economic well-being at home and recognizing our interdependence with our neighbors around the world. Paying for the coronavirus stimulus deal with deep cuts to the military budget for at least the next several years would go a long way towards reorienting the nation toward human security.
Right now, national security spending does not buy protection from the things most likely to kill Americans — pandemics, legal tobacco products and car crashes among them. Instead of health and safety research, the military’s scientific research focuses on things such as advancing U.S. fighter jets’ ability to evade detection and deliver ever more deadly ordnance. It also has bought glamorous video games, splashy advertisements and air show spectacles over football games that teach each new generation to value America as, at its best, a coercive force.
Where the military does conduct cutting-edge health research, it is on traumatic war injuries, not community spread infections. To deal with this pandemic, public resources must be directed now, and going forward, to civilian solutions to public health challenges.
Posing as a “wartime president,” given all of this history of war and war preparation, in fact may represent Donald Trump’s best chance at reelection in the face of a biological and financial meltdown. But war is, in part, what got us to this health crisis — with weakened public health care and a manufacturing system better suited to building bombers than respirators. The years of investing in military solutions means that this is where the resources, physical and cultural, are. The problem is that most of them are irrelevant to what we need to treat the sick and organize public response.
As we look to survive the coming year, we need to go beyond emergency care and stimulus packages to fundamentally rethink what national security means so that, in the next pandemic, we would not come to this, scrambling for enough face masks to protect our medical professionals and hoping that the military can save us.
Catherine Lutz & Neta C. Crawford
Catherine Lutz teaches at Brown University and Neta C. Crawford at Boston University. They co-direct the Costs of War project at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.
I have been thinking principally about the various kinds of security we all want and the various kinds of insecurity we face. Upon reflection, these turn out to be much broader than the way the concepts of security and insecurity are usually understood.
When we think of security in all its senses, it seems to me that the importance of global justice for security simply cannot be stated too. And secondly, it seems to me that public goods are essential for justice and hence for security—both here in the United States and around the world.
But first let us consider how security is commonly understood.
As it is usually talked about these days, as in “Office of Homeland Security,” “our national security,” “the conflict between civil liberties and security considerations,” “security was tightened,” or, more mundanely, “security guards,” the threats to our security are always intentional threats to our safety and well being, which of course means they are threats by people, whether individuals, groups, or nations.
Not so long ago, Communists were said to pose the biggest threat, now it is “terrorists” and “rogue nations.”
Security is a major growth business here and in many other parts of the world and an increasingly ‘high tech’ one. While we used to worry about intentional threats only from criminals, now our daily lives have been transformed by far more serious security concerns. More and more people have to carry, even to wear ID cards, big concrete blocks line the sidewalks of many of our streets and our access to countless public buildings is tightly controlled by phalanxes of security guards and video monitors. But most people pay little attention; the possibility of terrorist attacks has been normalized.
Generally speaking, most Americans’ concern about security today that is posed in terms of the word “security” is about intentional threats by people. We pay much less attention to threats to our safety and well being that are from nature rather than people, or are only indirectly from people, as unintentional consequences of human action. Though we read all the time about the dangers of global warming—a threat from nature that is an unintended result of human action—that is not what is usually intended by a “security” threat and it does not grip our imagination and fears in any way proportional to its severity. Hans Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said, “I’m more worried about global warming than about war.” But even for those of us who share his assessment of the severity of the threat of global warming, I think that such threats do not grip our imagination and fear in any way proportional to their seriousness.
Right after 9/11 there was the anthrax scare that raised the threat of bioterrorism. Although it turned out not to be as serious as was thought and not to be from a foreign source, nevertheless the threat is potentially very real, simply because biological and chemical weapons are so cheap. Unlike all other Weapons of Mass Destruction, (WMD), biochemical weapons are potentially accessible to the poorest nations and individuals. During the anthrax scare which in the end killed only six people, it was quite apparent that the absence of a decent public health system in the United States renders us defenseless against a threat of this kind. A minimum necessary condition for increasing our security against the threat of biochemical terrorism is a good public health system. Now, millions of Americans are uninsured, hence not secur against ordinary medical problems, but since the harm there is not intentional, it gets less priority; it seems less threatening—except of course to the sick person and their families who don’t have insurance.
Common Security and democratic control
The threat to poor South Africans’ security is not from terrorism or other intentional acts—except of course the act of privatizing the provision of water. Both for poor South Africans and Americans whose water has been contaminated by dumping of industrial waste, the problem is that access to a basic necessity of life is compromised by the profit system.
The crucial point from both these examples like Bhopal or Chernobyl is that is that in order to ensure our security, the essentials of human life must be under public democratic control—how else can we be sure that they will truly serve our interests—as we perceive our interests? There are risks to almost everything we humans do and we often have competing goals. This means that complex decisions and often trade-offs have to be made, and no one is in a better position to make these decisions than the people who are most directly affected. Contrary to received wisdom, no great expertise is required.
A fascinating book called Demanding Democracy After Three Mile Island shows the changes in ordinary peoples’ attitudes toward business and government after the accident at the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania. From feeling incompetent and trusting the authorities, people in the community came to feel that they were the ones who should decide. One woman in the community said that if the experts had told her that nuclear energy would lower energy costs so she could use her electric dryer, she would prefer to hang her clothes on a clothesline now that she knows the risks. That is why experts are needed: to lay out the implications of different technical choices. But then it is only the individuals directly involved who can evaluate these implications and choose in terms of what they most care about.
I WOULD LIKE TO TURN NOW TO THE QUESTION OF WHAT MIGHT explain our focus on threats to security that come from intentional acts. It is certainly not because intentional acts do more harm. Around 8.5 million people were killed during the four years of World War I, but more than twice that many—20 million people—died from the flu pandemic in 1918-19.So what does explain the focus on intentionality when we think of threats to our security? Some might argue that the focus on intentionality has moral roots—the most basic negative duty is not to harm, and it’s worse to harm intentionally. Acts of commission are generally seen as worse than acts of omission, and positive rights and duties (rights and duties that require help, rather than simply requiring that one not harm or interfere with another person’s actions) are not universally acknowledged—certainly not in the laws of our country. Hence the focus on intentional acts might be said to have a legal basis—all societies have laws against harming people that reflect our moral judgment that harm done intentionally is the worst kind (except when the government does it in wars or capital punishment).
Natural catastrophes, ‘natural threats’?
Perhaps we can just extend this explanation and say that we focus on threats to our security from human acts for practical reasons, because they are potentially under our control, whereas other threats to our security, like natural catastrophes, are out of our control. This sounds reasonable; what is the point of focusing on threats that we can do nothing about? And some natural catastrophes are of course out of our control. Some, but not all; some “natural” threats may be caused by human action. Global warming obviously is, but some are less obvious. The cholera epidemic in South Africa I mentioned earlier is called a ‘natural disaster’ by the government, but in reality is due to their privatization of water. Or consider the drought in many parts of Africa, or the sand storm that came over Beijing a couple of years ago; both are caused by cutting down too many trees. Moreover, even natural threats that are not caused by human action, might nevertheless be controllable by human intervention—as diseases are in the richer parts of the world.
So some natural threats, like global warming or the drought, are clearly side effects of our economic system—‘collateral damage’ one could say—so they are potentially under our control. But we are all too prone to see the economic system as being like nature rather than constituted by human relations and countless human acts. We listen to the stock market report like we listen to the weather report, as something we’re powerless to affect, that happens to us, rather than something we do. This is, of course, what Marx called “commodity fetishism,” which he saw as a very central aspect of the ideology of capitalism. So long as we believe that it is out of our control, then it is. So the focus on intentional acts has the effect of shielding the economic system from scrutiny and from being exposed as the major cause of insecurity for millions of people around the world. Ernest Mandel once pointed out that the number of calories consumed by the prisoners in Nazi concentration camps exceeds what millions, perhaps billions, of people get every day, simply as a result of the normal workings of the global market. Another comparison: Everyone knows the rough figures on the deaths from the World Trade Centre attack: upwards of 3,000 people were killed; some of us know that at least the same number, maybe more civilians have been killed in Afghanistan by U.S. Military forces.
But few people are aware of the effects of the economic downturn that was brought on or exacerbated by the attack; according to the World Bank, in countries without a social safety net, 40,000 children will die from disease and malnutrition.
Why doesn’t this suffering and insecurity deserve as much concern? Is it not so bad because it is not intentional? As I said earlier, there is more of a consensus on the immorality of intentionally harming people than there is on the immorality of failing to help, on negative duties rather than positive duties. But that’s among philosophers and politicians. Ordinary people around the world struggle for the satisfaction of their basic needs and think it’s only right; most other people agree even if they wouldn’t pose it in terms of positive rights. Furthermore, even within the narrow terms of negative rights and duties, it is almost as bad to do harm unintentionally but with reckless disregard for the harmful consequences—drunk driving for example—as it is to do harm intentionally—and this conviction is embedded in our legal system. You might be charged with manslaughter rather than murder, but manslaughter is still pretty bad. Certainly, this description—doing harm unintentionally but with reckless disregard—would apply to the ordinary workings of global corporate capitalism. So there is little basis for saying that the focus on threats to our security from intentional acts is due to their being so much worse from a moral point of view.
Perhaps the focus on threats to our security from intentional acts has psychological, emotional roots. Perhaps we are afraid, most basically, of someone trying to hurt us. Even if the objective harm is the same as harm that is from natural causes, it is more hurtful psychologically when it is intentional because it is a conscious, deliberate rejection of who we are. And if our attacker feels this way, maybe the rest of the world does too. Survivors of violence report that it changes the way they look at the world. Perhaps also we’re more afraid of intentional threats to our security because the danger tends to be sudden, to hit all at once, so there is no time to get used to it and the fear of the surprise intensifies the fear of the harm and so when it occurs we experience shock. Some researchers have suggested that the stress of waiting for the blow to fall explains why sometimes victims of domestic violence seem to provoke the violence. The shock of the totally unexpected blow was multiplied many thousand times in the attack on the World Trade Center where more people were killed all at once than at any other time in history. In contrast, the damage done by the absence of goods to satisfy basic needs tends to hit far more slowly; people suffer and die from malnutrition little by little over a very long time making it quite unsurprising; in fact, it just seems “natural.” As Amartya Sen points out in arguing against the satisfaction of preferences as a basis of welfare ethics, in some contexts women suffering from malnutrition seem not even aware that they are hungry. Psychology students may remember the gruesome experimental results that a frog dropped in boiling water struggles mightily while a frog dropped in water which is then heated to boiling does not.
Whose security ?
Perhaps the crucial issue explaining the focus on threats to our security from intentional acts is the one I mentioned : namely, that when we speak about security, we have to ask, “Whose security?” Perhaps it is simply those of us who are fortunate enough not to have to worry about threats to our safety and well- being from nature or from the ordinary workings of the economic system who focus on the dangers of people intentionally trying to hurt us, whether they be ordinary criminals or terrorists. Thus it is especially Americans, Europeans and the elites of the developing world who focus on security in the narrow sense. Of course, people in war anywhere have to focus on those dangers; if they’re not alive, they don’t have to worry about clean water. But ordinarily, poor people have more basic worries. Thus, it is not surprising that the only academic discipline where “security” in used in the broad sense I am advocating is in development studies, e.g., “food security.”
Whatever explains our narrowness in thinking about threats to our security—perhaps all of the above factors contribute—the effect is the same, viz. that we miss the most crucial threats to global security in the long run and the best way to defend ourselves. The focus on intentional acts is simply too narrow to provide genuine security, certainly for the poor of this country and the rest of the world, but also, increasingly, for the rest of us as well. To make everything necessary for our security into public goods that are democratically controlled is the only way, I maintain, that the human species can be secure in the long run. This would be global justice. Although we can hardly afford to be optimistic, there is some evidence that more and more people around the world are beginning to think in this direction—and to organize. The anti-globalization movement—more properly called the global justice movement—is enormously promising. (…).
The gender dimension
And indeed it is pretty obvious, once you think about it, how “gendered” the two meanings of “security” and threats to security are. When we talk of security in the narrow sense, as in “our national security interests,” we know that it is men who will be defending us against other men who are attacking us. Although the sexual division of labor is amazingly variable through human history, one thing that does not vary is that men are responsible for warfare. Even though women are now soldiers in the United States, on the ground and piloting planes, this is basically unchanged. In photo after photo of ordinary soldiers, military leaders, “experts” and politicians, women are out of sight—except for the occasional photogenic exception like Jessica Lynch, And today’s warfare is a very high-tech affair, another masculine domain.
On the other hand, if we think of security in the broader sense of security blankets and social security, then women immediately enter the picture. The other invariable piece of the sexual division of labor is that women do the bulk of care-taking—of the young, the old and other dependents, so women around the world are providing the bulk of the ongoing material and emotional security everyone needs. This is not ‘high-tech’ at all, but simply caring labor, usually on top of other labor. When the market threatens this security by not providing enough for a family’s needs, women pick up the slack; when public goods are cut back women’s burden increases. This has been worsened in poor countries by Structural Adjustment Plans that force cutbacks in social services and in our own country with so-called welfare reform. The difference is that in our country the burden of privatization does not fall equally on all or most women; it falls predominantly on poor and minority and overwhelmingly on immigrant women who do the bulk of caring labor—as nannies, homecare workers, elder care workers—caring labor that is still not acknowledged as a public good. As long as this socially necessary labor is left to private arrangements, it will fall primarily on women, and particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, women who have to leave their own families to care for others. Sometimes they leave them at home in the same city, sometimes far away back in their home countries. These are all, of course, issues of global justice.
For our own security, it is time we reconceived the meaning of security. When we do, we will recognize its connections to global justice.
Nancy Holmstrom (*)
with the author's permission
(*) Chair of the Philosophy Dept at Rutgers in Newark. Nancy H. has written on many central topics in Marxist and feminist theory ; has co-edited 'Not For Sale: In Defense of Public Goods' (2000) and edited 'The Socialist Feminist Project: A Reader in Theory and Politics' (2002).
NATO’s main enemy is supposed to be Russia. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures are about 6-7 % of NATO’s total expenditures (29 countries). It doesn’t matter that NATO’s technical quality is superior. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures are falling year-by-year – decreased to US $ 64 billion in 2018 from US $ 66 billion in 2017. It doesn’t matter that Russia’s military expenditures averaged only US $ 45 billion from 1992 until 2018. And it doesn’t matter that the old Warsaw Pact budget were some 65-75% of NATO’s during the first Cold War and we were told back then that some kind of balance was good for stability and peace. Today we are told that the more superiority NATO has, the better it is for world peace.
In short, reality doesn’t matter anymore to NATO. And this is where the 2 per cent of GNP comes into play and reveals just how deep NATO’s crisis is. But have you seen anybody questioning this 2 per cent goal as the philosophical nonsense – or forgery – it is?
It resembles the Theatre of the Absurd to tie military expenditures to the economic performance of a country. Imagine a person sets off 10 % of her/his income to buy food. Sudden he or she wins in a lottery or is catapulted into a job that yields a 5 times higher income. Should that person then also begin to eat 5 times more?
The 2 per cent goal is an absurdity, an indicator of defence illiteracy. People who take it serious – in politics, media and academia – obviously have never read a basic book about theories and concepts in the field of defence and security. Or about how one makes a professional analysis of what threatens a country.
If military expenditures are meant to secure a country’s future, do the threats that this country faces also vary according to its own GNP? Of course not! It is a bizarre assumption.
Decent knowledge-based defence policies should be decided on the basis of a comprehensive analysis of threats and contain dimensions such as:
What threatens our nation, our society now and along various time horizons? Which threats that we can imagine are so big that we can do nothing to meet them? Which are such that it is meaningful to set off this or that sum to feel reasonably safe? What threats seem so small or unlikely that we can ignore them?
What threats are most likely to go from latent to manifest? How do we prioritize among scarce resources when we have other needs and goals than feeling secure such as developing our economy, education, health, culture, etc.?
And, most importantly, two more consideration: What threats can be met with predominantly military means and which require basically civilian means? And how do we act today to prevent the perceived threats from becoming a reality that we have to face – how do we, within our means, prevent violence and reduce risks as much as possible?.
All these questions should be possible to answer with the new mantra: Just always give the military 2 per cent of the GNP and everything will be fine?
Read it carefully: NATO’s military expenditure increase 2016-2020 is US $ 130 billion – that is twice as much as Russia’s total annual budget!
There is only two words for it: Madness and irrationality. Madness in and of itself and madness when seen in the perspective of all the other problems humanity must urgently find funds to solve.
The total regular UN budget for the year 2016-17 was US $ 5.6 billion. That is, NATO countries spend 185 times more on the military than all the world does on the UN.
Do you find that sane and in accordance with the problems humanity need to solve? This author does not. I stand by the word madness. There exists no rational academic, empirical analysis and no theory that can explain NATO’s military expenditures as rational or in service of the common good of humankind.
The world’s strongest, nuclear alliance is a castle built on intellectual sinking sand. It’s a political, moral, legal and intellectual Titanic.
The only armament NATO needs is legal, moral and intellectual. And unless it now moves in this direction, it deserves to be dissolved. The inverse proportion between its destructive power and its moral-intellectual power is – beyond any doubt – the largest single threat to humanity’s future.
This challenge is at least as serious and as urgent as is climate change.
Perhaps it is time to stop keeping NATO alive by taxpayers’ money and start a tax boycott in all NATO countries until it is dissolved or at least comes down to – say – one-tenth of its present wasteful military level ! Not to speak of its bootprint destruction of the environment…
Jan Oberg, december 2019
His wife Christina Spännar, and Jan Oberg are the founders of the Transnational Foundation. Jan Oberg is a former member of the Danish Government's Committee on Security and Disarmament. Jan O. also taught peace courses for more than 10 years at the European Peace University in Schlaining, Austria.
Humanity is facing a biodiversity crisis. To solve environmental problems, we bring people from Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority to the same table. Conservation efforts are beneficial for all communities and facilitate constructive dialog across divides in conflict zones. This pleads for the integration of nature conservation into peacebuilding interventions.
In the Middle East, the essence of the project ‘Birds Know No Boundaries’ is threefold: a) to convince individuals and communities to protect their environment in their own country; (b) to favor communication between countries to foster experience; and (c) to use the project to raise awareness about environmental and peacebuilding issues. The intensive use of agricultural pesticides throughout the Middle East poses a grave threat to the environment and its biological diversity.
The Jordan Valley, located at the junction of Europe, Asia, and Africa, is an important diversity hotspot and is an important bottleneck on the world’s principle bird migration routes [Bruderer, B. and Liechti, F. ,1995). To protect birds migrating from Europe and Asia from poisoning, we developed a project to replace pesticides with biological pest control agents in agricultural fields. Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian farmers participate in this joint integrative pest management project with the ultimate aim of promoting more sustainable and environmentally friendly farming habits. Barn owls (Tyto alba) and kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) are common throughout Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, especially in agricultural areas. Each pair of barn owls produces up to 11 offspring, which eat between 2000 and 6000 rodents per year, making them an efficient alternative to pesticides for the farmers.
How Wars of the Future May Be Fought Just to Run the Machines That Fight Them
Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.
Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.
Such numbers cannot do full justice to the extraordinary gas-guzzling expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, for every soldier stationed "in theater," there are two more in transit, in training, or otherwise in line for eventual deployment to the war zone -- soldiers who also consume enormous amounts of oil, even if less than their compatriots overseas. Moreover, to sustain an "expeditionary" army located halfway around the world, the Department of Defense must move millions of tons of arms, ammunition, food, fuel, and equipment every year by plane or ship, consuming additional tanker-loads of petroleum. Add this to the tally and the Pentagon's war-related oil budget jumps appreciably, though exactly how much we have no real way of knowing.
And foreign wars, sad to say, account for but a small fraction of the Pentagon's total petroleum consumption. Possessing the world's largest fleet of modern aircraft, helicopters, ships, tanks, armored vehicles, and support systems -- virtually all powered by oil -- the Department of Defense (DoD) is, in fact, the world's leading consumer of petroleum. It can be difficult to obtain precise details on the DoD's daily oil hit, but an April 2007 report by a defense contractor, LMI Government Consulting suggests that the Pentagon might consume as much as 340,000 barrels (14 million gallons) every day. This is greater than the total national consumption of Sweden or Switzerland.
Not "Guns v. Butter," but "Guns v. Oil"
For anyone who drives a motor vehicle these days, this has ominous implications. With the price of gasoline now 75 cents to a dollar more than it was just six months ago, it's obvious that the Pentagon is facing a potentially serious budgetary crunch. Just like any ordinary American family, the DoD has to make some hard choices: It can use its normal amount of petroleum and pay more at the Pentagon's equivalent of the pump, while cutting back on other basic expenses; or it can cut back on its gas use in order to protect favored weapons systems under development. Of course, the DoD has a third option: It can go before Congress and plead for yet another supplemental budget hike, but this is sure to provoke renewed calls for a timetable for an American troop withdrawal from Iraq, and so is an unlikely prospect at this time.