13.02.2015 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

The US Defense Budget: A Recipe of Protracted War and Conflict

7654444The US president Obama’s demand for a base defense budget of $534 billion in 2016, exceeding by $35 billion the mandatory across-the-board reductions known as sequestration, along with an additional $51 billion– an increase of 6 percent from last year– to pay for operations in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, as well as the continued American military presence in Afghanistan, has completely exposed the much beaten about myth of ‘significant’ cuts in the US defense budget and the consequent ‘less belligerent’ foreign policy. The State Department has sought another $8.6 billion for international security assistance that pays for a range of programs including counter-narcotics, peacekeeping, and especially for training foreign militaries. The Obama administration’s $4 trillion budget for 2016 includes $619 billion for a broad set of defense programs and another $54 billion for all the US intelligence agencies to act and counter-act geo-political manoeuvers across the world.

It is as interesting as absurd to note that the US government is justifying this increased defense budget in the name of the President’s pledge to end two costly and exhausting land wars. The result, administration officials say, will be a military that continues to be capable of defeating any adversary but is too small for protracted foreign occupations, notwithstanding that “foreign occupations” would still be as much a part of the US foreign policy as they are today. Not only would “foreign occupation” be maintained, but interventions and support to disgruntled groups would also remain very much in practice. Break-up of the defense budget shows this very policy. The budget supplement includes $1.3 billion to train and equip Iraqi and Syrian forces to fight the Islamic State, while providing few new details on how the Obama administration plans to combat the group in the years ahead. Of that amount, $700 million is for Iraqi and Kurdish security forces, and another $600 million is to train and equip vetted moderate Syrian opposition fighters. In 2015, the Pentagon got $1.6 billion for these programs.

On the other hand, emerging reports also strongly suggest that the US officials are also floating the idea of sending lethal military assistance to the government in Kiev. Although no US official cited Ukraine as an issue per se as the reason for beefing up the defense budget, it is evident that the US is considering “all options” to bring a desired end to the crisis. As a matter of fact, Lt Col Vanessa Hillman, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the administration’s focus remains on pursuing a solution (to the Ukraine crisis) through diplomatic means, but added: “We are always evaluating other options that will help create space for a negotiated solution to the crisis.”

The US has already committed, at least, $118m worth of aid to Kiev’s military and border guard as a part of its policy of direct and indirect interventions in areas close to Russia. That the US is pursuing all options of interventions becomes evident from a very recent (February 2, 2015) report of The Atlantic Council prepared by eight former top US officials that calls on the US to provide arms to Ukraine, and recommends giving Ukraine $1bn of military assistance in 2015, and a further $1bn each year in 2016 and 2017. It is, therefore, not a mere coincidence that this report has been followed by a demand for an increase in the defense budget. The report also recommends that “the U.S. government should immediately change its policy from prohibiting lethal assistance to allowing provision of defensive military assistance, which may include lethal assistance, most importantly, light anti-armor missiles.” This report—a document of an open war rather than a proxy war— further recommends to also provide radars that can pinpoint the location of longer-range rocket and artillery fire because enemy rocket and artillery attacks account for 70 percent of the Ukrainian military’s casualties. It also says that “consideration should be given to drawing equipment from U.S. stocks and using assistance funds to replenish U.S. inventories.”

Bearing in mind that the report cited here has been written by people including Michele Flournoy, the former under-secretary of defense, who took herself out of the running to replace outgoing defense secretary Chuck Hagel, and James Stavridis, who served as the top NATO military commander, it becomes quite obvious that Obama administration’s global strategy is as war and chaos centric as was the previous governments’, and that it does aim to keep fuelling conflict and casualties—a classic example of neo-conservative assault on the post-colonial world.

Notwithstanding what the report recommends and what conclusion we may draw from it, it is now evident that the US is seriously considering to provide official assistance to Ukraine government. The US Secretary of State John Kerry, who plans to visit Kiev on Thursday, is open to new discussions about providing lethal assistance, as is Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officials said. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is leaving his post soon, backs sending defensive weapons to the Ukrainian forces. While the Western media’s reports tell us that the US is considering sending official assistance, Russian officials have been condemning such belligerent calls. “If the US administration makes such a decision, it will lead to irrevocable consequences,” said Viktor Zavarzin, a member of the Russian parliament’s defense committee. He further added, “We’re going to hope that the United States will be rational when making a final decision on this.” Another member of the defense committee, Frants Klintsevich, told journalists on Monday (February 2, 2015) that Washington was (deliberately) trying to draw Russia directly into the conflict in Ukraine with its statement, adding: “We know very well that the United States has been delivering arms to Ukraine for a long time already.”

Enough evidence has been collected to prove that the US, since 1990s, had been investing in Ukraine to wean it away from Russia. As a matter of fact, the US had been funding Ukrainian army for long, and just before the current crisis started in 2014, the IMF—-an arm of the US cold war politic—-approved “a $17 billion loan program to Ukraine’s army. Normal IMF practice is to lend only up to twice a country’s quote in one year. This was eight times as high”, reported Counterpunch. The US did not react when Kiev used the loan for military expenses to attack the Eastern provinces, and the loan terms imposed the usual budget austerity, as if this would, or was meant to, ‘stabilize’ the country’s economy.

For anybody who still believes those (as also the up-coming money) billions of dollars were spent just to prop up democratic institutions need only consider the harsh historical lessons from places as diverse and distant as South America and the Middle East. Time and again, from Chile to Iran, Washington has propped up puppet dictatorships to serve its purposes. During the cold war, the main purpose was to win maximum allies in the “third world”; after the cold war, the purpose was and still is to maintain unchallenged hegemony in the world, and deny its adversaries, or strategic competitors, any space for geo-political maneuvering. It is therefore not a mere coincidence that the world has been deeply immersed in wars since the end of cold war and that the US has been at the helm, directly or indirectly, of every war. A portion of the US defense budget has always been allocated to fight and fund proxy wars in distant areas. In this context, it should not have come as a surprise to note that President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget requests $8.8 billion to fund US efforts to “fight Islamic State militants”, bolster Iraq’s army and strengthen the “moderate” opposition in Syria, and provide military assistance to Ukraine.

The US defense budget, as is evident from this analysis, is a potential recipe of protracted war and conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia. Not only would the ‘democratic’ government be at the helm of most of the destruction of human life and property in the coming year, but also be directly responsible for spreading radical outfits, such as the ISIS, through its clandestine operations for which billions of dollars have been reserved. It is an irony of history that the US continues, amid talks of democracy, human rights, and freedom of expression, to plan the ways and means for more devastation and havoc.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook