U.S. Election Breakdown: U.S. reliance on military explained
Andrew Bacevich

Editor's note: The 2020 U.S. presidential election is a once-in-a-lifetime event to watch. The American public and politicians are drowning in international conflicts, domestic crises, political divide and civil unrest. The U.S. and its relationship with other countries and the international system today stand at a crossroads. What's in store for us from now until November 3? What will the future look like after this crucible? CGTN is inviting scholars from U.S. think tanks and universities to break down the election and share their views on its various aspects. This is part fourth of the series, with Andrew Bacevich explains the role of interventionism - the reliance on military force - in American politics and foreign policy. He is the president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University. The opinions expressed here are his own, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Adriel Kasonta: Dr. Martin Luther King once warned about "racism, extreme materialism and militarism" in the United States. Do you think these illnesses are still affecting the U.S. today?

Andrew Bacevich: Dr. King at that famous presentation denounced militarism, materialism, and racism, and I think it is, from the perspective of this conservative, fair to say that that indictment still applies. Now, the George Floyd killing and other similar incidents have, in this moment, evoked a greater awareness of the legacy of racism in American society. That's a good thing.

What hasn't happened, I think, is an awareness of the problems of materialism and militarism. I think the policies of Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama gave us Donald Trump. In other words, the policies of interventionism - the great reliance on using military force - that by 2016 had produced the so-called endless wars. And that created the opportunity for Donald Trump to advertise himself as the president who is going to end endless wars which, of course, he has not done.

Our penchant for relying on armed force, particularly as an instrument of foreign policy, dates back to World War II, the World War II as the American people have been coached to remember it. So the so called lessons of World War II, compounded by the lessons of the Cold War, compounded by the experience of the post-Cold War era have created a sense of expectations that armed forces are strong suit. And therefore, there's this rarely questioned inclination to spend lots of money on the military, to design the military as an instrument for projecting power as opposed to simply defending the United States, to maintain this broad network of bases, to export vast amounts of arms.

And sadly, that set of practices doesn't get a lot of critical attention. It's just more or less, in Washington, accepted as the way we do business.

Kasonta: What's your opinion on the argument that "it is in the U.S.' national interests to maintain a dominant position in the world"?

Bacevich: Well, I don't think we do maintain a dominant position in the world. When the Cold War ended, such claims were made. There was a claim made that we could describe the world as a unipolar order, that the United States was the sole superpower. I think that was always an illusion. And even to the extent that it had some substantive merit in the 1990s, it has none today.

Ours is a multipolar order. The United States is still a very important player in that multipolar order, but we're not the only one. Obviously, China is another. And then there is a very important, what we might call, second tier. Now, who is in the second tier? Well, Japan, the EU, Russia, probably we should add India, Turkey, and so on. None of these nations can be ignored, can be set aside. And so if there is any hope for having this international stability in the 21st century, It's going to come as a result of taking into account the vital interests of all of these different nations, so that everybody is satisfied.

I think that, you know, challenge of doing that is just enormous. And again, the challenge becomes more urgent when we factor in problems like climate change. So, all the talk of a global dominion, unipolar order, sole superpower, that just all gets in a way of serious thinking about the problems that we are facing in this century.


Kasonta: Do you think this kind of army-oriented policy has truly kept American citizens safe? Do you think the U.S.' security challenges are changing?

Bacevich: Well, yes. And there is no question, I think, that the security challenges facing the United States are changing. And the pandemic - one of the reminders of that change – we were not prepared, we did not respond well, and so we ended up with over 200,000 dead Americans. It's a catastrophic failure.

And it's a failure, in some respects, reflected misplaced priorities. So there is a new national security agenda that is begging to be recognized, and disease is going to have a place on that agenda, climate is going to have a place on that agenda, the movement of populations is going to have a place on that agenda, and so are more traditional concerns, like terrorism or great power rivalry. I don't think that the national security establishment in the United States has yet fully embraced the complexity of this new environment that is emerging.

National security elites need to be open to learning, and they're not - or at least sufficiently. And so we fixate on traditional security concerns. And I think there is a strong argument to be made that, in the 21st century, it's the non-traditional security concerns that are actually going to pose a greater threat to the well-being of the American people. That doesn't mean you ignore traditional concerns. It means that you need to be able to do more things at the same time.

Part one: U.S. Election Breakdown: U.S. fails to come to grips with reality

Part two: U.S. Election Breakdown: What does the China-U.S. relationship mean?

Part three: U.S. Election Breakdown: China and the U.S. need 'creative diplomacy'

Interviewer: Adriel Kasonta

Graphic design: Zhang Xuecheng

Video editing: Feng Ran

Managing editor: Huang Jiyuan

Senior producer: Wei Wei

Managing director: Mei Yan

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)