As the disastrous US wars in the Middle East begin to wind down, the Pentagon is shifting its strategy, budget and arsenal to focus on a confrontation with Russia and China, writes Darius Shahtahmasebi.
The Pentagon recently announced it fiscal year 2021 budget request. At $705 billion, it indicates a shifting focus from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a greater emphasis on the types of weapons that could be used to confront nuclear giants like Russia and China.
To use the Pentagon’s exact wording, the U.S. is seeking to procure “more advanced high-end weapon systems, which provide increases standoff, enhanced lethality and autonomous targeting for employment against near-peer threats in a more contested environment.”
This is not to say that the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will end. During 2019, the U.S. dropped a whopping 7,423 munitions on Afghanistan, the highest number of bombs released in nearly a decade of its ongoing war and occupation there.
According to the Department of Defense, a two-pronged approach will see the U.S. ensuring that “U.S. worldwide munition inventories are sufficiently stocked” for ongoing needs, In laymen’s terms, the budget will account for the ongoing wars in the Middle East.
Based on the history of U.S. military expeditions, it’s safe to conclude that the U.S. will continue operations in the Middle East and North Africa and avoid war with more powerful nations such as Russia and China. As Professor Richard Jackson, director of the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies in New Zealand told MintPress via email, “the history of the U.S. involves it attacking small nations with very limited capabilities in extremely asymmetric conflicts.”
However, all things considered, there are still a number of indications that the U.S. has aggressively changed tack in its approach to maintaining its imperialist ambitions.
For example, last year, the U.S. national security strategy changed from focusing on the war on terror to a great power conflict with Russia and China according to American lawyer and political activist Kevin Zeese.
“The Nuclear Posture Review called for upgrading nuclear weapons so they will be useable in war,” Zeese explained to MintPress. “Both these policies began under Obama with the Asian Pivot and the trillion-dollar, ten year plan to upgrade nuclear weapons.”
“These policies along with the expansion of NATO along the Russian border and numerous military agreements with Asian nations are all preparation for military conflict with Russia and China. The end of weapons agreements makes all of this more risky…This is not a war the US should fight as Hawaii and the lower 48 will be at risk. This is a disastrous policy for the US and world,” Zeese added.
The big winners of such a budget request, regardless of the strategy envisioned, is a military industrial complex that continues to go strength to strength regardless of who is seated in the Oval Office. Unsurprisingly, the budget would likely be used to procure weapons from some of the most lucrative defense contractors in the world. For example, there is already speculation that the U.S. will seek to acquire Lockheed Martin’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet-launched Long-Range Anti-Surface Missile; as well as a desire to continuously upgrade Raytheon’s Tomahawk missile into a “Maritime Strike Tomahawk.”
When it comes to the procurement of U.S. military technology, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are two notably consistent big winners. Lockheed Martin is the largest defense contractor in the world, generating up to $44.9 billion in arms sales in 2017 alone. In 2018, it is believed to have generated even more revenue, with a single contract being worth $22.7 billion.
Raytheon is not much further behind, generating $25.3 billion in revenue in 2017, 94 percent of which was due to arms sales and defense contracts. Its revenue also significantly increased over the last few years. It would appear that the U.S. will continue to award these two defense contractors with billions of dollars in the years to come based on the current projections.
All that being said, we may still never know the true cost to the U.S. taxpayer of lining the pockets of the military industrial complex’s wealthy elite. Speaker, anti-war activist and author of “War is A lie,” David Swanson outlined to MintPress, “a government agency whose reports on what it spends are full of fraud (don’t take my word for it) and which has never met the legal requirement of an audit, and whose enterprise is openly the criminal one of aggression rather than the euphemistic one of ‘defense,’ should not get a dime.”
“Instead,” Swanson stated, “the Pentagon, plus other military agencies and expenses, are getting $1.25 trillion a year while less than 3 percent of that could end starvation on earth and when anyone proposes spending money on humanity or the earth the demand rings out How-Are-You-Going-To-Pay-For-It?
We all know the price we’re going to pay for not making these investments. Should the U.S. military ever actually end any war, I’ll cheer as loudly as anyone, but focusing plans on nuclear wars and wars with nuclear nations should not be good news to anyone who cares about life (a group in which I do not include anyone who has promoted Russiagate for the past four years, leading to the Doomsday Clock arriving closer to midnight than ever before). Which is more absurd, imagining that — contrary to all past experience — preparing for more wars will bring us fewer wars, or allowing Congress Members who fund those war preparations and expand them even beyond the Pentagon’s wish list to call themselves ‘The Resistance’?”
The Pentagon’s new “priority theater”
While it remains a topic rarely discussed by the media, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper publicly indicated that the Indo-Pacific region, in recent times, has become the U.S. military’s “priority theater.” The reasons for this surge in priority are simple: China’s expanding influence in this arena poses a major threat to the economic and imperialist ambitions of the United States; as well as a threat to its close allies in the region such as Australia.
Notably, in August last year, Esper made a call to expand base locations in the Pacific region, already stating that the U.S. had its eye on a number of key locations throughout the Indo-Pacific. Esper also stated that the U.S. would be looking to invest “more time and resources into certain regions we haven’t been to in the past.”
At the time, an Australian think-tank also warned that the U.S. military is overstretched in the region and risks suffering a fait accompli loss to China. The report says that Beijing’s “growing arsenal of accurate long-range missiles poses a major threat to almost all American, allied and partner bases, airstrips, ports and military installations in the Western Pacific.”
Of course, Chinese officials have warned the U.S. that Beijing will “not stand idly by” and will take countermeasures if the U.S. intends to deploy intermediate-range ground-based missiles in the Asia-Pacific region. While the U.S. cries foul and paints itself as a victim of Beijing’s expanding foreign policy, the truth is that Washington’s increasingly hostile approach to Russia and China, including its decision to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, is what is leading the world down a dangerous road which involves a potential nuclear holocaust.
In the meantime, the budget request may provide for other mechanisms in which the U.S. will likely try to confront its perceived angst over China’s naval and missile capabilities, particularly where the Indo-Pacific or the South China Sea is concerned. Noticeably, the budget request also includes an allowance for a planned buying spree of “ship-killing missiles” over the next five years, which has arisen solely as a result of China’s expanding naval force. It was also recently announced that Esper is seeking to expand the U.S. navy with a 355-ship fleet by the year 2030.
China’s current naval fleet comprises approximately 335 surface ships and could expand to as many as 420 vessels in the next 15 years.
Although in the current 2021 budget request, shipbuilding has taken one of the larger cuts, with $4.1 billion less budgeted than the year prior. The navy is also considering the development of unmanned vessels which would more or less exist for the sole purpose of “trading missiles with China,” according to Defense News.
Confronting Russia and China
It is a notable aspect of the Pentagon’s budget request that the overall figures in relation to the overseas contingency operations (OCO) for Afghanistan are at its lowest amount in close to a decade. The current request “assumes a drawdown of forces,” though this is an idea the U.S. government has flirted with for over a decade with little to show for it.
While anti-war activists may not see this as being necessarily a development to deplore, one can’t help but notice that the U.S. is looking to invest its military budget in other areas. In totality, the Trump administration is seeking $46 billion for nuclear programs. In Esper’s view, nuclear weapons are a strategic deterrent and a top priority for the Pentagon, even in light of the catastrophic consequences of their use.
As such, some critics of American foreign policy find the overall trajectory the U.0.S government is leading the world concerning at best.
“[This shift] is consistent with the Mattis Nuclear Posture Review and other official statements since, which call for a shift of focus to confronting Russia and China,” Professor Noam Chomsky and public intellectual explained to MintPress.
“It’s also consistent with military policies, such as the NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe and in the Arctic, aimed at Russia, and with US efforts to prevent China’s technological development.” Chomsky added.
“And more generally, the Trump administration commitment to dismantle what remains of the arms control regime. Last August, it withdrew from the INF treaty and immediately tested missiles that violate it. It seems that the Open Skies Treaty and New Start are on the chopping block. These are among the reasons, I presume, why the Doomsday Clock was recently moved to 100 seconds to midnight, the closest it has ever been to termination.”
US Military Expenditure in the Global Context
Despite the genuine threats that an ever-expanding U.S. military budget poses to the rest of the world, particularly as it seeks to fund a confrontation with nuclear powers such as Russia and China, some media commentators insist the budget is too low.
As it stands, there is not a single country whose military expenditure compares to that of the United States. According to the recent findings of Military Balance 2020, an annual assessment from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), the U.S. spent $638 billion in 2019 on its military while China lagged behind at second place with $185 billion.
Roughly 60 percent of global military spending comes from just five countries: the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France. Three of those countries are crucial American allies, and only one can be classified as an adversary. The United Kingdom, another key U.S. ally, is not far behind the top five, spending roughly $50 billion. Russia has actually cut its military spending in recent years.
The idea that the U.S, under its current budget, would struggle to contain nations like North Korea or Iran is arguably nonsensical. Just the increase in the U.S. budget request alone from year to year is larger than Iran’s total annual military spending.
The United States maintains a network of some 1,000 military bases worldwide. Only 11 other nations in the world hold foreign bases in other countries (70 bases in total), including the UK, France, Turkey, Russia, and China. The total cost to the U.S. government to house troops and maintain bases, including in war zones, costs well over $100 billion.
Shortfalls in the U.S. military budget, if they do exist, do not threaten the U.S. military or even the U.S population as a whole; but they might threaten the existence of a rapidly declining U.S. empire. The military budget, in general, shouldn’t be viewed in terms of military prowess, but in the context of the empire which the U.S. government continues to run at the expense of much of the global population and environment.
Feature photo | U.S. Marines conduct a training exercise in Giskås, Norway, Feb. 10, 2020, as part of exercises focusing on regional engagements throughout Europe. Nathaniel Q. Hamilton | DVIDS
Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.