Whether it’s protecting our homeland or protecting our interests abroad, our military continually demonstrates that it’s the strongest, most capable defense force in the world. Maintaining a strong military is essential to protecting the freedoms upon which America was founded, and it also serves as a powerful deterrent to those nations that would be our enemies.
But over the last few decades, our foreign policy has expanded the military’s mission far beyond what it was built to handle. Our forces are deployed in too many places, which has contributed to our burgeoning national debt. More troubling, however, are the number of lives lost to various wars and deployments across the globe.
Finding Common Ground supports a plan for national security that protects our interests, both foreign and domestic, without the unintended costs that have been the result of our most recent policies.
Here’s a look at ideas we support:
Develop a more consistent policy on deployment
It’s not surprising that our foreign policy varies from year to year, administration to administration. The political winds shift, the conflicts broaden, the level of human suffering rages, then resolves.
However, some aspects of our national security remain relatively consistent, including the number of military bases we maintain — 800 at last count. Our lingering presence in Iraq and Afghanistan detracts our military from its main mission of keeping us secure, as does our newfound practice of “nation-building.”
Our leaders in Washington, D.C. — Democrats and Republicans alike — desperately need to create a unified strategy for when and why we deploy our troops, how long we keep them there and what our role is while we’re there. Granted, no two situations are the same, but there are some areas on which our leaders can find common ground, including what constitutes a threat to the American way of life.
Realign military spending
In 2019, the United States spent $730 billion on conventional military forces, a number that climbs to nearly $1 trillion if you take into account homeland security, veteran’s services and other protection measures. That’s three times bigger than the military budget for China and 10 times bigger than Russia’s, according to Scientific American.
Military spending also accounts for more than half of our annual discretionary spending.
But for all the billions spent on complex weapons, fighter jets, Naval ships and personnel, we were woefully unprepared for the greatest threat to our national security in a century: the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s grants for emergency public health preparedness dropped from $939 million in 2003 to $675 million in 2020.
This is not a call to defund the military. We must continue to fund a robust national defense. But must also reallocate some of that $1 trillion to other more pressing needs, including economic stimulus, education and programs for the poor. Part of the solution lies in cutting wasteful spending: A 2015 report showed that the Pentagon spent $125 billion on administrative waste.
Take better care of our veterans
Despite spending nearly $220 billion on our veterans in 2020, it isn’t enough to provide adequate care to the 17.4 million veterans living in the United States. We need to support those who have defended our freedoms and democracy. Today, the last of our World War II veterans reach their late 80s and 90s. Veterans of our conflicts in Korea and Vietnam are aging, and thousands who fought in the Gulf Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan continue to require medical treatment and psychological support. And many of the 1.6 million Americans still on active duty will soon be using the services of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
We urge Congress to allocate more money to care for our veterans. We owe them the very best medical, educational and vocational services available in the United States.
Other ideas for our national security supported by Finding Common Ground:
Beefing up our statecraft by giving more resources to our diplomatic corp, which ultimately is our best system of national defense.
Use international trade as a tool for building relationships with other nations
Reserve military action as a last resort.
Finding Common Ground
We must always maintain a strong military that keeps our country and our way of life safe. But must learn from some of the mistakes we’ve made in the modern era, and adopt a more practical vision of the threats we face and when to intervene in the conflicts that don’t directly impact our interests. That calls for reflection, recalculation and most importantly, restraint.