Global Security

For a couple of decades, especially during the 1980s, American insecurity centered on fear of domestic crime. It was almost an obsession, and politicians built careers on exploiting such fear. But ever since September 11, 2001, much of America's insecurity has been redirected toward fear of foreign terrorism. Increasingly, the world is a scary place — will Iran get the bomb; will the Taliban poison our water supply?

The United States' response to all of this is what you might call a Dirty Harry foreign policy. Americans will protect themselves through the use of overwhelming force, even, as they've discovered, against people who never harmed them in the first place. The United States has had troops in Iraq since 2003, and the war in Afghanistan is now the longest in U.S. history. Our nation has bases in dozens of other countries, including places like Okinawa, Japan, where the locals have long demanded that the Americans go home. All of these bases cost a bundle.

The current U.S. “defense” budget stands at nearly $700 billion a year (about the cost of Obama's stimulus package) and consumes over 20 percent of its total federal budget.37 A portion of this money is actually spent for weapons even the Pentagon says it doesn't need. Direct costs for the Iraq and Afghan wars now exceed $1 trillion.

Ironically, many Republicans, who now recoil in terror at the prospect of deficit spending, never complained when Bush (and Reagan before him) massively increased war spending while slashing taxes for the rich, a one-two punch that produced the greatest deficit increases in American history. “Deficits don't matter,” Vice President Dick Cheney said then. Now, apparently, they do. But advocating defense cuts to decrease the deficit is likely to get you called a traitor.

In his final speech as president, one such traitor, former general Dwight D. Eisenhower, warned us to beware the increasing power of the “military-industrial” complex and to consider that dollars spent on weapons came from the mouths of the hungry.38 They still do.

A few years ago, John produced Silent Killer, a television documentary about ending world hunger. While researching the film, he learned that thirty thousand children die of hunger and hunger-related diseases every day, one every three seconds. This is a daily holocaust — ten September 11s every day. Experts say the hunger crisis could be ended completely for as little as $13 billion a year, less than what the U.S. military spends in one week.39

We know that generosity is an important contributor to happiness and that a world without poverty-stricken, desperate people, whose children die before the age of five, would be a safer world. A true national security policy would look to repairing a broken world where anger and resentment fester. It would transfer a significant portion of the dollars spent on bombs and guns to the provision of safe and adequate food, clean water, and the control of disease. It would seek the greatest good for the greatest number over the longest run.

For Americans ever to feel truly secure, they must build a world that is secure for all humans. But right now, as we have seen, it's not even secure for all Americans.

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