The United States currently maintains a unique position in the world. Given its resources, the United States has the potential to play an important role in promoting peace and reducing poverty. However, U.S. foreign policy has often favored independent military action over international cooperation. Damaged relationships abroad, policies focused on short-term results, and a reliance on military intervention rather than diplomatic efforts have created conflict and suffering.
U.S. military spending nearly doubled under the Bush administration. This rapid increase not only hurt other government programs such as the State Department, but left the Department of Defense (DOD) vulnerable to fraud and waste. U.S. military spending accounts for 48% of the world's military spending. This is more than the next 46 highest spending countries combined. Forty-three percent of the 2007 U.S. federal budget was allocated to the military, while roughly 1% was dedicated to non-military international programs and another 12% went to efforts to reduce poverty.
President Bush requested $518.3 billion for the military in the FY 2009 federal budget. Congress approved a 6.2% increase in military spending from the previous fiscal year, a mere $4 billion less than the requested amount. This number does not include $70 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the violence escalates in these countries, as is the case in Afghanistan, that number could triple.
This imbalanced emphasis of budgetary priority on military might has diminished international relationships and has exacerbated insecurity in many parts of the world. Rather than heavily investing in military efforts, the United States ought to invest in preventive strategies that repair broken relationships abroad and address root causes which lead to insecurity. The United States can promote a sustainable global peace and increase security without resorting to costly and destructive military intervention by:
1. Expanding economic and development aid.
2. Investing in diplomacy.
3. Strengthening international organizations such as the United Nations.
These preventive strategies not only make fiscal sense, as diplomacy and economic development are a bargain compared to military intervention, but also value human life. Addressing root causes of instability and repairing international relationships would improve our security at home and our image abroad.
Further, the Psalms command us to "Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it." (Ps.34:14) As Christians who are citizens of a powerful country, we have a legitimate voice to advocate for policies that invoke preventive strategies and therefore seek peace by pursuing it.
With a new Congress and new Administration coming to Washington, let us tell them to prioritize sustainable initiatives that value human life instead of expanding military might.
The next issue of the Washington Memo (a quarterly newsletter) looks at how the United States can be a peacemaker. Sign up to receive a free one-year trial subscription at: <http://www.mcc.org/us/washington/resources/memo/signup.html>