Security Paradoxes: Environment and Spending

This has been a really busy week – we’re sponsoring a panel on Ukraine tomorrow – which means that I’ll be posting remarks over the weekend.  So it’s not all bad: a slow week this week means that there will be fresh analysis and commentary for you this coming week!

Security Paradox #1: Environment

But for now, I’d like to call attention to a public address from a couple years ago by the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey.

General Dempsey sought to define the security environment for the Harvard audience.  It was an interesting lecture (he’s pretty entertaining), and he had some comments that I found specifically thoughtful.

  • He cited Steven Pinker’s book, and acknowledged that “violence is at an evolutionary low for the [human] species.” [Note: he made special emphasis on the word “evolutionary.”]
  • He then went on to state, “I’m Chairman at a time that seems less dangerous, but is actually more dangerous.”  He called this the “Security Paradox.” He went on to say that “although geopolitical trends are ushering in greater levels of peace and stability worldwide, destructive technologies are available to a wider and more disparate pool of adversaries.”
  • And so we are at a moment that exhibits a “counterintuitive combination of peace and the potential for violence.”

Security Paradox #2: Spending

It strikes me that we’re also at a paradoxical moment with respect to defense spending.  From one view, the U.S. spends considerably more on the military than the rest of the world. The chart below depicts this fairly well – though these figures are constantly in dispute – the rough idea remains the same no matter how you round the decimal points.

Secondly, however, as a percentage of our national economy – we’re spending significantly less than what we have historically allotted to national defense (see second chart below).  Again, there’s some dispute with the figures (and, let’s face it, the Heritage Foundation isn’t exactly a neutral observer here), but a reasonable person cannot escape this fact.

Image courtesy of Armscontrolcenter.org. Image courtesy of Armscontrolcenter.org. Image courtesy of the Heritage Foundation. Image courtesy of the Heritage Foundation.

Author: ML Cavanaugh

Unequal parts strategist, assistant professor, wordsmith, runner, wine-o, reader, philosopher of firepower, and hopeless lover of three ladies named Rachel, Grace, and Georgie.

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