When the Cold War officially ended suddenly in 1991 Washington had one more chance to pivot back to the pre-1914 status quo ante. That is, to a national security policy of Fortress America because there was literally no significant military threat left on the planet.
Post-Soviet Russia was an economic basket case that couldn’t even meet its military payroll and was melting down and selling the Red Army’s tanks and artillery for scrap. China was just emerging from the Great Helmsman’s economic, political and cultural depredations and had embraced Deng Xiaoping proclamation that “to get rich is glorious”.
The implications of the Red Army’s fiscal demise and China’s electing the path of export mercantilism and Red Capitalism were profound.
Russia couldn’t invade the American homeland in a million years and China chose the route of flooding America with shoes, sheets, shirts, toys and electronics. So doing, it made the rule of the communist elites in Beijing dependent upon keeping the custom of 4,000 Walmarts in America, not bombing them out of existence.
In a word, god’s original gift to America—the great moats of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans—could have again become the cornerstone of its national security.
After 1991, therefore, there was no nation on the planet that had the remotest capability to mount a conventional military assault on the U.S. homeland; or that would not have bankrupted itself attempting to create the requisite air and sea-based power projection capabilities—a resource drain that would be vastly larger than even the $900 billion the US currently spends on its own global armada.
Indeed, in the post-cold war world the only thing the US needed was a modest conventional capacity to defend the shorelines and North American airspace against any possible rogue assault and a reliable nuclear deterrent against any state foolish enough to attempt nuclear blackmail.
Needless to say, those capacities had already been bought and paid for during the cold war. The triad of minutemen ICBMs, Trident SLBMs (submarines launched nuclear missiles) and long-range stealth bombers currently cost $52 billion annually for operations and maintenance, replacements and upgrades and were more than adequate for the task of nuclear deterrence.
Likewise, conventional defense of the U.S. shoreline and airspace against rogues would not require a fraction of today’s 1.3 million active uniformed force—to say nothing of the 800,000 additional reserves and national guard forces and the 765,000 DOD civilians on top of that.
Rather than funding 2.9 million personnel, the whole job of national security under a homeland-based Fortress America concept could be done with less than 500,000 military and civilian payrollers. At most.
In fact, much of the 475,000 US army could be eliminated and most of the Navy’s carrier strike groups and power projection capabilities could be mothballed. So, too, the Air Force’s homeland defense missions could be accomplished for well less than $100 billion per annum compared to its current $200 billion budget.
Overall, the constant dollar national defense budget was $660 billion (2022 $) when the cold war ended and the Soviet Union subsequently disappeared from the face of the earth in 1991. Had Washington pivoted to a Fortress America national security policy at the time, defense spending could have been downsized to perhaps $500 billion per year (2022 $) or potentially far less.
Instead, Imperial Washington went in the opposite direction and ended up embracing a de facto policy of Empire First. The latter will cost $900 billion during the current year and is heading for $1.2 trillion billion annually a few years down the road.
Empire First—-The Reason For An Extra Half Trillion For Defense
In a word, Empire First easily consumes one-half trillion dollars more in annual budgetary resources than would a Fortress America policy. And that giant barrel of weapons contracts, consulting and support jobs, lobbying booty and Congressional pork explains everything you need to know about why the Swamp is so deep and intractable.
Obviously, it’s also why Imperial Washington has appointed itself global policeman. Functioning as the gendarme of the planet is the only possible justification for the extra $500 billion per year cost of Empire First.
For example, why does the US still deploy 100,000 US forces and their dependents in Japan and Okinawa and 29,000 in South Korea?
These two counties have a combined GDP of nearly $7 trillion—or 235X more than North Korea and they are light-years ahead of the latter in technology and military capability. Also, they don’t go around the world engaging in regime change, thereby spooking fear on the north side of the DMZ.
Accordingly, Japan and South Korea could more than provide for their own national security in a manner they see fit without any help whatsoever from Imperial Washington. That’s especially the case because absent the massive US military threat in the region, North Korea would surely seek a rapprochement and economic help from its neighbors including China.
Indeed, sixty-five years after the unnecessary war in Korea ended, there is only one reason why the Kim family is still in power in Pyongyang and why periodically they have noisily brandished their incipient nuclear weapons and missiles. To wit, it’s because the Empire still occupies the Korean peninsula and surrounds its waters with more lethal firepower than was brought to bear against the industrial might of Nazi Germany during the whole of WWII.
Of course, these massive and costly forces are also justified on the grounds of supporting Washington’s committements to the defense of Taiwan. But that commitment has always been obsolete and unnecessary to America’s homeland security.
The fact is, Chiang Kia-Shek lost the Chinese civil war fair and square in 1949, and there was no reason to perpetuate his rag-tag regime when it retreated to the last square miles of Chinese territory—the island province of Taiwan. The latter had been under control of the Chinese Qing Dynasty for 200 years thru 1895, when it was occupied by the Imperial Japan for 50 years, only to be liberated by Chinese patriots at the end of WWII.
That is to say, once Imperial Japan was expelled from the island the Chinese did not “invade” or occupy or takeover their own country. For crying out loud, Taiwan had been Han for centuries and for better or worse, the communists were now the rulers of China.
Accordingly, Taiwan is separated from the mainland today only because Washington arbitrarily made it a protectorate and ally when the loser of the civil war set up shop in a small remnant of modern China, thereby establishing an artificial nation that, again, had no bearing whatsoever on America’s homeland security.
In any event, the nascent US War Party of the late 1940s decreed otherwise, generating 70 years of tension with the Beijing regime that accomplished nothing except to bolster the case for a big Navy and for maintaining vast policing operations in the Pacific region for no good reason of homeland defense.
That is to say, without Washington’s support for the nationalist regime in Taipei, the island would have been absorbed back into the Chinese polity where it had been for centuries. It would probably now resemble the booming prosperity of Shanghai—-something Wall Street and mainstream US politicians celebrated for years.
Moreover, it’s still not too late. Absent Washington’s arms and threats, the Taiwanese would surely prefer peaceful prosperity as the 24th province of China rather than a catastrophic war against Beijing that they would have no hope of surviving.
By the same token, the alternative—US military intervention to aid Taiwan—would mean WWIII. So what’s the point of Washington’s dangerous policy of “strategic ambiguity” when the long-term outcome is utterly inevitable?
In short, the only sensible policy is for Washington to recant 70-years of folly brought on by the China Lobby and arms manufacturers and green-light a Taiwanese reconciliation with the mainland. Even a few years thereafter Wall Street bankers peddling M&A deals in Taipei wouldn’t know the difference from Shanghai.
And speaking of foolishly frozen history, it is now 78 years since Hitler perished in his bunker. So why does Washington still have 50,000 troops and their dependents stationed in Germany?
Certainly by it own actions Germany does not claim to be militarily imperiled. It’s modest $55 billion defense budget amounts to only 1.3% of GDP, hardly an indication that it fears Russian forces will soon be at the Brandenburg Gate.
Indeed, until Washington conned the Scholz government into joining its idiotic sanctions war against Russia, Germany saw Russia as a vital market for its exports and as a source of supply for natural gas, other natural resources and food stuffs. Besides, with a GDP of $4.2 trillion or more than double Russia’s $2.1 trillion GDP, Germany could more than handle its own defenses if Moscow should ever become foolish enough to threaten it.
From there you get to the even more preposterous case for the Empire’s NATO outposts in eastern Europe. But the history books are absolutely clear that in 1989 George H. W. Bush and his Secretary of State, James Baker, promised Gorbachev that NATO would not be expanded to the east by a “single inch” in return for his acquiescence to German unification.
The Obsolete Folly Of NATO’s Article 5 Mutual Defense Obligations
At the time, NATO had 16 member nations bound by the Article 5 obligation of mutual defense, but when the Soviet Union and the Red Army vanished, there was nothing left to defend against. NATO should have declared victory and dissolved itself. The ex-paratrooper then in the White House, in fact, could have landed at the Ramstein Air Base and announced “mission accomplished!”
Instead, NATO has become a political jackhammer and weapons sales agent for Empire First policies by expanding to 30 nations—many of them on Russia’s doorstep.
Yet if your perception is not distorted by Washington’s self-justifying imperial beer-goggles, the question is obvious. Exactly what is gained for the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln NE or Springfield MA by obtaining the defense services of the pint-sized militaries of Latvia (6,000), Croatia (14,500), Estonia (6,400), Slovenia (7,300) or Montenegro (1,950)?
Indeed, the whole post-1991 NATO expansion is so preposterous as a matter of national security that its true function as a fig-leaf for Empire First fairly screams out-loud. Not one of these pint-sized nations would matter for US security if they decided to have a cozier relationship with Russia—voluntarily or not so voluntarily.
But the point is, there is no threat to America in eastern Europe unless such as Montenegro, Slovenia, or Latvia were to become Putin’s invasion route to effect the Russian occupation of Germany, France, the Benelux and England.
And that’s just plain silly-ass crazy!
Yet aside from that utterly far-fetched and economically and militarily impossible scenario, there is no reason whatsoever for the US to be in a mutual defense pact with any of the new, and, for that matter, old NATO members.
And that gets us to the patently bogus proxy war on Russia in which the nation of Ukraine is being turned into a demolition derby and its population of both young and older men is being frog-marched into the Russian meat-grinder.
But as we have documented elsewhere this is a civil war in an artificial nation confected by history’s greatest tyrants—Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev, too. It was never built to last, and most definitely didn’t after the Washington sponsored, funded and instantly recognized Maidan coup of February 2014 deposed its legitimately elected pro-Russian president.
Thereafter, Russia’s actions in recovering its former province of Crimea in March 2014 and coming to the aid of the break-away Russian-speaking republics of the Donbas (eastern Ukraine) in February 2022 did not threaten the security of the American homeland or the peace of the world. Not one bit.
The post-February 2014 conflict in Ukraine is a “territorial”, ethnic and religious dispute over deep differences between Russian-speakers in the east and south of the country and Ukrainian nationalists from the center and west that are rooted in centuries of history.
The resulting carnage, as tragic as it has been, does not prove in the slightest that Russia is an aggressive expansionist that must be thwarted by the Indispensable Nation. To the contrary, Washington’s imperial beer goggles are utterly blind to history and geopolitical logic.
In the first place, the history books make abundantly clear that Sevastopol in Crimea had been the home-port of the Russian Naval Fleet under czars and commissars alike. Crimea had been purchased from the Ottoman’s for good money by Catherine the Great in 1783 and was the site of one of Russia greatest patriotic events—-the defeat of the English invaders in 1854 made famous by Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade.
After 171 years as an integral part of the Russian Motherland and having become more than 80% Russian-speaking, Crimea only technically became part of Ukraine during a Khrushchev inspired shuffle in 1954. And even then, the only reason for this late communist era territorial transfer was to reward Khrushchev’s allies in Kiev for supporting him in the bloody struggle for power after Stalin’s death.
The fact is, only 10% of the Crimean population is Ukrainian speaking. It was the coup on the streets of Kiev in February 2014 by extremist anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists and proto-fascists that caused the Russian speakers in Crimea to panic and Moscow to become alarmed about the status of its historic naval base, for which it still had a lease running to the 2040s.
In the Moscow sponsored referendum that occurred shortly thereafter, 83% of eligible Crimeans turned out to vote and 97% of those approved cancelling the aforementioned 1954 edict of the Soviet Presidium and rejoining mother Russia. There is absolutely no evidence that the 80% of Crimeans who thus voted to sever their historically short-lived affiliation with Ukraine were threatened or coerced by Moscow.
Indeed, what they actually feared—both in Crimea and in the Donbas where the breakaway Republics were also soon declared—was the anti-Russian edicts coming out of Kiev in the aftermath of the Washington orchestrated overthrow of the legally elected government.
After all, the good folks of what the historical maps designated as Novorussiya (New Russia) populated what had been the industrial breadbasket of the former Soviet Union. The Donbas and the southern rim on the Black Sea had always been an integral part of Russia’s iron, steel, chemical, coal and munitions industries, having been settled, developed and invested by Russians under Czars from Catherine the Great forwards. And in Soviet times many of their grandparents had been put there by Stalin from elsewhere in Russia to reinforce his bloody rule.
By the same token, these Russian settlers and transplants in Novorussiya forever hated the Ukrainian nationalist collaborators from the west, who rampaged though their towns, farms, factories and homes side-by-side with Hitler’s Wehrmacht on the way to Stalingrad.
So the appalling truth of the matter was this: By Washington’s edict the grandsons and granddaughters of Stalin’s industrial army in the Donbas were to be ruled by the grandsons and granddaughters of Hitler’s WWII collaborators in Kiev, whether they liked it or not. Alas, that repudiation of history could not stand.
So we repeat and for good reason: You simply can’t make up $500 billion worth of phony reasons for an Empire First national security policy without going off the deep-end. You have to invent missions, mandates and threats that are just plain stupid (like the proxy war against Russia in the Ukraine) or flat out lies (like Saddam’s alleged WMDs).
Indeed, you must invent, nourish and enforce an entire universal narrative based on completely implausible and invalid propositions, such as the “Indispensable Nation” meme and the claim that global peace and stability depend overwhelmingly on Washington’s leadership.
Yet, is there not a more cruel joke than that?
Was the Washington inflicted carnage and genocide in Vietnam—which resulted in the death of upwards of one million—- a case of “American leadership” and making the world more peaceful or stable?
And after losing this costly, bloody, insensible war to the communists in 1975, how is it that what is still communist Vietnam has become the go-to place to source low-cost manufactured goods needed by tens of thousands of Amazon’s delivery trucks and mass market retail emporiums operating from coast-to-coast in America today?
Likewise, did the two wars against Iraq accomplish anything except destroy the tenuous peace between the Sunni, Shiite and Kurds, thereby opening up the gates of hell and the bloody rampages of ISIS?
Did the billions Washington illegally channeled into the rebel and jihadist forces in Syria do anything except destroy the country, create millions of refugees and encourage the Assad regime to engage in tit-for-tat brutalities, as well as call-in aid from its Iranian, Russian and Hezbollah allies?
Did not the destruction of Qaddafi’s government by American bombers turn Libya into a hell-hole of war-lord based civil war and human abuse and even enslavement?
In a word, Imperial Washington’s over-arching narratives and the instances of its specific interventions alike rest on a threadbare and implausible foundation; and more often than not, they consist of arrogant fabrications and claims that are an insult to the intelligence of anyone paying even loose attention to the facts.
In this context, there is only one way to meaningfully move the needle on both Washington’s hegemonic foreign policy and its giant flow of red budgetary ink. To wit, the American military empire needs be dismantled lock, stock and barrel. Fortunately, a return to the idea of Fortress America and what we have called the Eisenhower Defense Minimum can accomplish exactly that.
When president Eisenhower gave his prescient warning about the military-industrial complex in his 1961 farewell address, the US defense budget stood at $52 billion and it totaled $64 billion when you add in the collateral elements of national security that round out the full fiscal cost of empire. These include the State Department, AID, security assistance, NED, international broadcasting propaganda operations and related items, as well as the deferred cost of military operations reflected in Veterans Administration costs for compensation, health care and other services.
By the end of the cold war in 1991 this comprehensive national security budget had risen to $340 billion, but was not to be denied by the mere fact that the Soviet Union disappeared into the dustbin of history that year. The neocons soon infiltrated both parties and owing to their Forever Wars and hegemony-seeking policies the total had soared to $822 billion by the end of the Obama “peace” candidate’s presidency in 2016.
Yet the uniparty was just getting warmed-up. After being goosed big time by both Trump and Biden, the current estimate for FY 2024 stands at a staggering $1.304 trillion. That is to say, the comprehensive cost of empire now stands at a level 20X higher than what the great peace-oriented general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, believed was adequate to contain the threat posed by the old Soviet Union at the peak of its industrial and military power in 1960.
Yes, 64 years on from Ike’s farewell address there has been a whole lot of inflation, which is embedded in the slightly different NIPA basis for the defense numbers in the chart below. But even when adjusted to the current price level, the defense budget proper stood at just $440 billion in 1960 compared to $900 billion today; and the comprehensive national security budget totaled just $590 billion or only 45% of today’s $1.304 trillion.
National Defense Spending, NIPA Basis 1960 to 2022
As we indicated earlier, the Eisenhower Defense Minimum, rounded to $500 billion in today’s purchasing power, is far more than adequate in a world where America’s homeland security is not threatened by a technological and industrial superpower having even remote parity with the United States and its NATO allies. The combined $45 trillion GDP of the latter is 20X larger than that of Russia and nearly 3X that of China, which is itself a debt-entombed house of cards that would not last a year without its $3.5 trillion of exports to the west.
Stated differently, the old Soviet Union was autarkic but internally brittle and grotesquely inefficient and unsustainable. Red China, by contrast, is far more efficient industrially, but also has $50 trillion of internal and external debts and a thoroughly mercantilist economic model that makes it is utterly dependent on western markets. So its strategic vulnerability is no less conclusive.
At the end of the day, neither Russia nor China have the economic capacity—say $50 trillion of GDP—-or motivation to attack the American homeland with conventional military means. The vast invasionary armada of land and air forces, air and sealift capacity and massive logistics supply pipelines that would be needed to bridge the two ocean moats is virtually beyond rational imagination.
So what ultimately keeps America safe is its nuclear deterrent. As long as that is in tact and effective, there is no conceivable form of nuclear blackmail that could be used to jeopardize the security and liberty of the homeland.
Yet according to CBO’s latest study the current annual cost of the strategic deterrent, as we indicated above, is just $52 billion. This includes $13 billion for the ballistic missile submarine force, $7 billion for the land-based ICBMs and $6 billion for the strategic bomber force. On top of that there is also $13 billion to maintain the nuclear weapons stockpiles, infrastructure and supporting services and $11 billion for strategic nuclear command and control, communications and early warnings systems.
In all, and after allowing for normal inflation and weapons development costs, CBOs 10-year estimate for the strategic nuclear deterrent is just $756 billion. That happens to be only 7.0% of the $10 trillion baseline for the 10-year cost of today’s “Empire First” defense budget and only 5.0% of the $15 trillion national security baseline when you include international operations and veterans.
A return to the Eisenhower Minimum of $500 billion per year for defense proper over the next decade would thus save in excess of $4 trillion over the period. And these cuts would surely be readily extractable from the $9 trillion CBO baseline for defense spending excluding the strategic forces.
As we indicated above, for instance, there would be no need for 11 carrier battle groups including their air-wings, escort and support ships and supporting infrastructure under a Fortress America policy. Those forces are sitting ducks in this day and age anyway, but are only necessary for force projection abroad and wars of invasion and occupation. The American coastline and interior, by contrast, can be protected by land-based air.
Yet according to another CBO study the 10-year baseline cost for the Navy’s 11 carrier battle groups will approach $1 trillion alone. Likewise, the land forces of the US Army will cost $2 trillion and that’s again mainly for the purpose of force projection abroad.
As Senator Taft and his original Fortress America supporters long ago recognized, overwhelming air superiority over the North American continent is what is actually necessary for homeland security. But even that would require only a small part of the current $1.5 trillion 10-year cost of US Air Force operations, which are heavily driven by global force projection capacities.
At the end of the day a $4 trillion reduction in national security spending over the next decade is more than feasible and long overdue. It only requires tossing the Indispensable Nation myth into the dustbin of history where it has belonged all along.
Reprinted with permission from David Stockman’s Contra Corner.
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