The most striking thing about the proposed military budget increase is that the alleged Russian threat would enable the Pentagon to spend an additional $51 billion on military missions in different parts of the world, thousands of miles away from US shores.
While President Obama may have received the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2010, he sure looks like he’s preparing for war. Not only has the President proposed increasing militant spending, which would backtrack on his previous pledges of slashing it, but he also justified it on the grounds of a supposed ‘Russian threat’. Specifically, the President is requesting nearly $170 million dollars to apparently ‘counter Russia’ in Eastern Europe, with an additional $789 million to maintain and expand the US military’s presence in Europe.
Studio guest Alexander Domrin, Professor at the Higher School of Economics, Yevgeny Buzhinsky, Lieutenant-General retired, Vice-President at the Center for Political Studies in Moscow, Jan van Benthem, foreign affairs commentator at the Nederlands Dagblad Daily, the Netherlands, Gilbert Mercier, News Junkie Post Editor in Chief.
Are we seeing Obama unleashed?
Alexander Domrin: I've never had any illusions regarding President Obama. And I find it very symbolic that a person who got the Nobel Peace Prize happens to be much more aggressive in his foreign policy than his predecessors.
But he ended the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
When it comes to Afghanistan and Iraq, actually there are 10 000 American troops that are staying behind in Afghanistan. And with Iraq, there currently are plans to have 4500 American military representatives on the ground.
Alexander Domrin: I think that it would be an exaggeration to say that President Obama stopped those two wars. I believe that what we have in Afghanistan and in Iraq right now, it is the continuation of those wars. Maybe, with the smaller number of troops on the ground, but nevertheless. The situation is now worse, than it was before the invasion.
And I think it is important to speak about, let’s say, proxy wars or soft conflicts. We can say that in Ukraine with the most recent colour revolution – the EuroMaidan – we yet again have some type of a soft conflict between Ukraine and Russia. What is your take on that?
Alexander Domrin: That’s exactly true! And we even have a new term – hybrid wars – which is basically the new type of war of the 21st century. And with that amount of money that the US is throwing into all those conflicts, we can expect their continuation even after President Obama. But comparing what Obama was saying at the beginning of his first term and President Obama as we know him now – the lame duck, answering the question “who is Mr. Obama and when did we see real President Obama?”, I believe that the real President Obama is the one whom we see right now.
Sergei Strokan: But, probably, what Obama is doing, it really shows that he is hostage to the domestic political situation, because the Congress is controlled by the Republicans.
This domestic situation is of his own making. The Democrats got trounced upon in the last election primarily because of the Democrats’ own failures. Yes, he did have these dreams of transforming the US domestically, but there still are very bitter partisan wars going on in the US and Obama is not simply capitulating, he is just looking abroad for his legacy. He is not so much a hostage, as he does want to transform the world as well. I mean, he does have a very hyper-liberal view of how things should be. Let’s look at his justification for the run up to Syria in 2013. He tried to attribute the whole thing to a humanitarian ground intervention. And this completely correlates with how he also views the US at home – a type of more “humanitarian approach”, but only in the way that he looks at things.
It is pretty contradictory that he wants to increase the budget, when he talked about slashing it for the past couple of years. Jan, what is your take on this?
Jan van Benthem: There has been a long dispute already on raising the defense budget. For instance, the strategic B-52 bombers, the youngest bomber is already 53-years old and needs to be replaced. So, if you look closely at the increased budget proposal, which is something like 17% in total, you’ll see that a lot of that money is going to the replacement requirement which was there for a very long time already. A lot of these systems belong to kind of a traditional army and traditional armed forces which they wanted to cut more. And that has ended, because, as Obama says, we are now not in an era of wars ending, but in an era of a new instability.
So, there are some current factors behind this military surge, if you will, but also the US is trying to replace its previous military infrastructure. Basically, if I understand you correctly, we will possibly be seeing an increase with or without Obama in power. And how are the Europeans explaining what is happening?
Jan van Benthem: The Europeans have been long pushed by the US to increase their dwindling defense budgets also, because the European armed forces are less capable than they were. If we look, for instance, at the Netherlands, now we can have two small operations abroad at the same time. But in the future we will not be able to do so anymore, because our army also shrinks and shrinks. The same applies to the UK etc. In Europe we are already having a debate –didn’t we cut too much on defense.
When it comes to Obama’s latest budget proposal, not only he wants to extend what he terms as “aid” to Ukraine, but he also wants to extend this to Moldova and Georgia as well. Is the US trying to use Ukraine to win the other two countries?
Gilbert Mercier: It is absolutely the case. To give you a bigger picture here, the overall defense budget for the fiscal year of 2016 will be $534 billion, plus $51 billion for “overseas operations”. That is $35 billion above the mandatory budget cut. So, he is going to have to seek the budget approval for that. There was a very interesting statement from the Pentagon to justify the budget increase of $35 billion. That was a press release that came yesterday, I believe. The Pentagon said that the US must continue investing heavily in defense, unless it is going to retreat globally. So, this is kind of a deal here. And they also mentioned in the same press release that the major threats, as they see it, are represented by ISIS, Russia's war in the Eastern Europe and Ebola.
Also, your listeners need to keep in mind that currently the US military is deployed in more than 150 countries worldwide with an occupying force of more than 160 000 troops. As an example, 70 years after the end of the WW II the US military still has around 30 000 troops in Germany and 60 000 troops in Japan. 54 years later the US still has almost 30 000 troops in South Korea.
We are discussing President Obama’s proposal for increasing the Pentagon’s budget. And we are wondering, how could Russia respond to some of these things?
Yevgeny Buzhinsky: I don’t think that Russia will increase its military spending because of the decision of Mr. Obama to increase the Pentagon’s budget. Russia is doing what it is doing. The re-equipment of the Russian armed forces is going according to the approved plan and financing. And taking into consideration not the easiest moment in the Russian economic situation, I don’t think that the Russian Government will increase its military budget.
The basic reason for the increase of military spending is the alleged Russian threat and the situation in Ukraine, what is your take on that? Do you think that this is just an excuse?
Yevgeny Buzhinsky: As you said, it is an alleged Russian threat. I'm absolutely sure that there is no threat from Russia to the Baltic states, which is the main justification of all those decisions of increase. The situation in Ukraine is a very good pretext for the US to make their allies increase their military spending, and to ease the financial burden the US is carrying in the context on NATO commitments.