The US Department of Defense is playing a predominant role in US foreign policy due to expanded mandates, large budgets and the disparagement of diplomacy by the Trump Administration. Defense relations may be the steadier foundation for transatlantic cooperation.
While the world has successfully lowered overall levels of militarisation over the last 30 years there has been a dangerous increase in the world’s most unstable areas
The conflict in Syria is a stark reminder of the devastating potential of state based armed conflict and the destructive capability of conventional heavy weapons. One need only look at the gulf between the numbers of lives lost from terrorism versus armed conflict globally to be reminded of this fact –in 2016, it is estimated that approximately five times more people were killed in armed conflict than in terrorist events.
While charting trends in militarisation is difficult due to the constantly evolving destructive capability of heavy weapons technology, IEP has tried to develop a data driven approach by compiled 30 years of heavy weapons data based on the authoritative International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) Military Balance. The data have then been codified based on a methodology developed by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
President Donald Trump has made no secret of his skepticism toward America’s most important security pacts and military commitments, sending shockwaves throughout East Asia in April when he suggested that Japan, among others, should pay more for American protection and arm themselves with nuclear weapons to deter North Korea. The Japanese government relies heavily upon its mutual defense treaty with the United States for its national security, as Article IX of the Japanese Constitution strictly limits the nation’s war-making capacity. Trump’s electoral victory in November thus has startling implications for the island nation, prompting some question as to whether Japan should start pursuing a more conventional military arrangement for its own self-defense. However, the prospect of a rapidly aging population and a dwindling labor force will serve as an obstacle to future military self-sufficiency.
The Imperative for an Expanded Military
Following Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, US-led occupation forces drafted a new constitution in which the nation relinquished its right to wage war. The United States subsequently signed a security treaty with Japan, permitting the United States to maintain permanent military bases on Japanese soil “to deter armed attack” against a pacified, and thus vulnerable, Japan. US authorities also encouraged Japan to maintain a limited self-defense force to guard against growing Communist elements in China and Korea. However, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), now composed of roughly 247,000 active personnel, engage primarily in international peacekeeping and disaster relief.
In many public debates around the globe, the narrative of ‘”Arctic War” has become the predominant narrative of the future of Arctic security:
Driven by climate change, the Arctic ice cap is melting and large amounts of untapped oil and gas resources as well as lucrative shipping routes are becoming increasingly accessible. As a part of their response, Arctic states are making far reaching territorial claims in order to secure this tremendously rich treasure, and some, especially Russia, are emphasizing their regional ambitions by increasing their military capabilities in the High North. Trapped in an unavoidable arms race, the Arctic states are on a slippery slope toward military confrontation.
While advancing this narrative, supporters too easily apply interest-driven predictions of an uncontrollable arms race in the High North. Interestingly enough, one region seems to be exempted from this trend: the Arctic itself. This either means that the Arctic is “sleepwalking” into “unavoidable military escalation,” blinded by its long history of cooperation, or that it is worth taking a second look at the “narrative” of Arctic War.
Natural Resources, Territorial Claims, and Militarization?
First, what would be the source of a potential Arctic conflict? For many observers this seems to be very clear: economic interest. In 2008, a U.S. Geological Survey considered the Arctic to contain most of the world’s still undeveloped oil and gas. In addition, as the ice melts, lucrative shipping routes, like the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route, are becoming more and more accessible. Since then, nearly every national submission to the extension of the Arctic state’s continental shelf (and thus the right to exploit the resources in the seabed) is considered a “provocative,” sometimes even “offensive” act.
The Obama administration has received much attention for its policy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region. The rebalance has been described as President Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative. Launched in 2009, it has received much attention from academics, practitioners, think tanks, and the media. In reality, the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific has been more evolutionary than revolutionary; a U.S. shift in focus and grand strategy began well before President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.
If the Obama presidency in fact initiated a revolutionary rebalancing, it was his effort to rebalance American foreign policy generally from over-reliance on the military and toward greater reliance on diplomacy and development. Despite a concerted effort, when viewed through several lenses it seems clear that demilitarization has failed and U.S. foreign policy remains very, perhaps overly, militarized. As a result, the Pentagon can expect to be handed messy military operations short of inter-state war that it may not be prepared, equipped, or organized to handle efficiently or effectively.