Foreign Policy Blogs

Excuse Me Mr. President…

“The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force.”

— Thomas Jefferson

 Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on winning your second term in office. I wish you the best as you work with your team, and the Congress, to chart a course to strengthen our economic and national security in the years to come.

Mr. President, I am a retired military officer, and I represent no political action or special interest group. What I am about to share concerns our national security, specifically, your administration’s proposed approach to addressing the defense spending challenge. Now I know you have many astute advisors from both the civilian and military sectors who are far more qualified than I to address these matters, however, I have something to say.

Since 1992, I have participated in multiple military campaigns to include interventions in Somalia; the Persian Gulf; Afghanistan; Colombia; and even counter-insurgency operations in the Philippines. I was  just one committed member of this generation’s All-Volunteer Force – a force that has endured the constant stress and strain of supporting peacekeeping and humanitarian “fires”, as well as executing post-9-11 “kick the door in —  fight and stay” operations.

Since the fall of the Twin Towers in New York, more than 46,000 of our military men and women have been wounded, and still others – more than 6,200 members of the military have lost their lives in climes and places alien to our own  (Source of data: White House -  Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership).  Mr. President, we rely far too much on the military hammer for overseas conflict resolution and mitigation. Since WWII, our government has picked up the military hammer far too many times and for far too long a time.

As you well know, the practice of national security is a multidimensional one and requires that other tools of national power ,as well as multilateral approaches, be employed to mitigate and resolve crisis. For a country that touts diplomacy over conflict and engagement over military encirclement the quantity of national resources spent on domestic defense, and the “underwriting of global security”, is obscene. What message are we sending to our children, when your administration continues to spend fourteen times as much on defense as you do on diplomats and when our defense spending accounts for 42% of total global arms spending?  (Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Another concerning aspect of our over-the-top defense spending habits is our nuclear  arsenal.

Despite being a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons –– an agreement requiring that we pursue the ultimate elimination of our nuclear arsenal,  you requested $7.6 billion in funding for nuclear weapons – a five percent increase from the 2012. Further, in the next four years your administration will spend $9.6 billion on maintaining and modernizing the nuclear stockpile. How can we tell “non-compliant” nations not to pursue their nuclear weapons ambitions when instead of downsizing our own we maintain a super-sized arsenal at levels totally decoupled from any concept of proportionality?

Mr. President, we can do a much better job rightsizing military spending.  One of your key advisors, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey hit the mark when he stated recently that “Capability is more important than size.”   I ask that you consider making moves aimed at downsizing military expenditures to achieve the Joint Chiefs’ stated objective to “develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives”.

Peace in our time will not come principally through the persistent projection and application of military might, but through our commitment to dialogue (even with bad guys), trade, and multilateralism. Yes, our military needs to be capable, well-equipped and credible, but there should be no doubt that with the right adjustments, tremendous cost savings can be achieved without comprising security — enhancing economic security along the way.

Keeping  factory lines open, and stimulating the private sector should not trump our moral and economic obligation to maintain military spending at sensible levels. And by the way Mr. President, we still DO buy bayonets.

Very Respectfully,

Oliver-Leighton Barrett

 

 

Author

Oliver Barrett
Oliver Barrett

Oliver Barrett is a bilingual military security adviser and Latin America regional analyst. He is a decorated retired military officer, and a Pentagon insider who has quickly become known as a thought leader on foreign affairs topics. A former U.S. Marine and Navy pilot, Oliver served with distinction in the U.S. military for over 20 years and is a veteran of several U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His writings focus on Latin America and the Caribbean; U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and the U.S. Role in the World. He resides in Miami, Florida.

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