(Note: The writers address the question, “Should the U.S. increase military spending to keep pace with Russia and China?”)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — We do not need to increase military spending to deal with Russia or China. The 2019 military budget, recently authorized by Congress, stands at $716 billion. That’s “billion” with a “b.”
That figure dwarfs expenditures by China and Russia. China spends $175 billion a year. Russia, whose economy is lagging badly, has cut military expenditure in the past two years, and is now under $60 billion.
Our competition with China is economic, not military. The only arena for military conflict is the South China Sea, but we don’t need a beefed up military for that purpose.
In any event, we overplay the importance of the South China Sea to U.S. trade or other interests.
With Russia, our competition is political, not military. We have put Russia in fear by moving NATO into its backyard. That has generated reaction from Russia. There is much we could do to ease tensions.
Rather than spend more for military, we should examine current expenditures. We waste billions. We are building a new class of aircraft carrier for the Navy with little assurance of quality.
The nuclear-powered USS Gerald R. Ford, the first carrier in this new class, is costing $13 billion. Now close to being online, it is experiencing what the Pentagon gingerly calls “manufacturing defect” issues.
It has an untried digital propulsion system that seems not to work. Carriers of this size, moreover, have been shown in war games to be vulnerable to anti-ship weaponry that has grown more sophisticated in recent years. So even if the Navy can get the USS Gerald R. Ford to sail, it may not serve its purpose. And the Navy wants three more.
If our security in the world is in jeopardy, it is not for lack of military hardware. It is because of our policies.
Our allies don’t know what to expect from us. They are aghast at President Donald Trump’s refusal to participate in initiatives they find important to preserving world security. We perplex our friends by actions like relocating our embassy to Jerusalem, or repudiating the climate treaty and the nuclear arrangement with Iran.
We are separating ourselves from the world community. We are pulling out of treaties that call for resolving disputes peacefully, in the International Court of Justice.
When Palestine sued us, as it did recently, over the relocation of our embassy to Jerusalem, we overreacted.
Palestine was able to get the case into the International Court of Justice because both Palestine and the United States are party to a multilateral diplomatic relations treaty that lets states sue for violations of the law on diplomatic relations.
Seventy-one states of the world are parties. Instead of just dealing with the lawsuit, the White House announced that we will pull out of the treaty altogether. That is the same treaty that let us sue Iran when our people were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979.
We should be protecting peaceful avenues to resolve disputes, not cutting them off. We should not fear application of universally agreed legal principles.
Military confrontation with either Russia or China is unlikely. If a serious confrontation were to come to pass, however, a U.S. president needs to have sufficient credibility to be able to convince allies to assist, even if some of their people would die in the effort.
Now we have little assurance of a response we might get. Our allies deal with Trump by appealing to his ego. They do not regard him as a reliable partner. They doubt his judgment, and even his truthfulness.
Security lies in being able to mobilize support from other countries in a crisis situation. We have enough weaponry. Spending more on weapons is a shortsighted avenue to national security.
John B. Quigley is a professor of law at the Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Readers may write him at Moritz, 55 W. 12th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210.