Should Military Force Be Used For Ill-Defined Economic Goals?

Should Military Force Be Used For Ill-Defined Economic Goals?

Donald L. Losman

Security, Americas

The elevation of economics from a supporting role to that of a war aim is morally very questionable. 

The role of economics in America’s National Security Strategy (a document mandated by Congress upon the Executive branch in the 1980s) has undergone a remarkable, yet wholly unnoticed metamorphosis.  An examination is long overdue to unmask this evolution and question its validity, and particularly so with U.S. troops now maintaining oil fields in Syria.

President Trump’s strategy document has four pillars.  The first is a rather traditional ‘protecting the homeland,’ with border security being a new, added point.  Pillar III, ‘advancing peace through strength,’ is hardly new.  And Pillar IV, ‘advancing American influence,’ is similarly traditional.  Pillar II, however, ‘promoting prosperity,’ is a purely economic goal, the likes of which has not been seen in years.   Further, its subtitle, “Economic Security is National Security,” is a highly dubious claim. 

Clearly, supply availabilities have always been a concern to military planners.  A strong economy, however, was traditionally deemed an enabling mechanism to finance a war rather than a war goal. The concept of a defense industrial base, another enabling mechanism (and one noted in the Trump strategy), became more prominent in the U.S. in the post-World War I period and demonstrably clear after World War II because it was America’s ‘arsenal of democracy’ which had propelled the Allies to victory.   But it was the Arab oil embargo of October 1973 – deemed the cause of oil shortages, inflation, and recession – that launched the economic component toward morphing into a desired goal in itself.  When oil prices spiked again after the 1979 Iranian revolution, Jimmy Carter subsequently announced that any attempt to control the Persian Gulf would be addressed by all means necessary.  In March 1980, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, the precursor to the U.S. Central Command, was activated.  

The 1980s security strategy documents focused on the Cold War, with Reagan’s 1988 document noting “America’s economic strength sustains our other elements of power,” a clear designation of economics as a war-supporting mechanism.   George H.W. Bush’s 1991 strategy broadened the definition of national security, with a concerted effort to expand the concept to include economic health.

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