SINCE the end of World War II, the United States has based its foreign and military policy on the theory that an international communist movement, dedicated to the destruction and domination of the US and its allies, presented a relentless, expanding, implacable foe.
Military budgets allowed for a continuing advance in the capacity of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons. Our nation sought conventional and covert forces sufficient to challenge the perceived enemy in Europe and throughout the third world - in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Many of us long argued that the threat during that period was overstated, that the strategy we pursued was poorly conceived or wrong, and that the scale of our military investment and our proclivity to use military for ce were inconsistent with our long-term diplomatic, economic, and national interests. And now, the intellectual and evidentiary basis that had been offered to support the cold-war strategy has melted away.
During the cold war, more than 70 percent of our national-defense resources was dedicated to meeting the perceived threats posed by the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Much less discussed, however, is the confrontation that played itself out in various military conflicts throughout the third world. Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Angola, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Indonesia, the Philippines, Cuba, and other locales provided the literal battleground, often characterized as the surrogate wars, of this larger c onfrontation.
Now the cold war is over. The Clinton administration states its commitment to a more sensible military budget and recognizes the drain that military spending has placed on our economy. Opportunities abound for a change in US priorities and policy.
The first question we must ask is: When is the use of force justified? The Armed Services Committee will attempt to use our hearings to challenge the assumption that the use of force or intervention should be readily available and frequently invoked. So long as any other options exist to resolve the crises at hand - whether they be the protection of human rights, the cessation of civil and cross-border wars, or the restoration of civil authority to prevent massive loss of life - we should resist the urge
to broaden the violence.
We must recognize that the US has often acted in isolation from the world community in the use of force. Most recently, we saw examples of this in our refusal to place our troops under United Nations command in Somalia and our insistence on enforcing no-fly zones in Iraq that have not been established by the UN.
At home, we must insist that presidents cannot commit US troops to military action without congressional approval. The framers of our Constitution clearly intended that Congress determine when, where, and how the US would resort to force, even short of full-scale war. Their rationale was clear and precise: Congress will usually be less willing than the president to risk the lives of our citizens and the treasure of our nation in armed conflict. It is insufficient for a president to seek legislative appro val after troops have been deployed or covert action undertaken.
If we reject military intervention as an instrument of foreign policy; if we believe that international organizations should assume the leading role in peacekeeping, human rights protection, and the restoration of civil order; if we reject placing a plethora of truly civilian responsibilities in the hands of our military simply to maintain high military spending; and if we pursue arms-reduction programs that cut nuclear forces to levels that stave off the threat of nuclear blackmail, then we should be ab le to achieve the type of dramatic reductions that were proposed in last year's Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and House Progressive Caucus budget.
That plan envisioned reducing military spending by 50 percent from cold-war levels within four years, and maintaining that level of reduced spending for an additional four years. As the principal author of that plan, I believe that it would place us on the path to a reasonable level of military spending without unduly disrupting our economy and the lives of the men and women currently in uniform or employed in defense-related industries. The budget the CBC submitted last year would have resulted in milit ary savings of $1 trillion from 1993 to 2000.
In last year's CBC budget, we allocated roughly $7.5 billion for what I characterize as structural economic conversion planning - the extended unemployment benefits, GI Bill, community impact aid, and worker training necessary to offset the impact of plant and base closures. In addition, we argued that the federal government had to take most, if not all, of the defense savings in the first four to five years and reinvest them in communities affected by military-spending reductions. This is essential to p rovide jobs for retrained workers and to allow companies to retool for the next century.
Our military budget must start from the point of view that it addresses real, defined, and ascertainable - not hypothetical - threats. It must be based on a proper assessment of the strategy that will be employed to face those legitimate threats. It must be of a scale sufficient, and no more so, to deploy forces and procure materiel to implement that strategy.
Tepid cuts in military spending will produce the worst of all economic worlds - reduced job opportunities in the current economy and no drive to pull the economy through to the other end.
We have an opportunity that we have not had since the end of World War II to reorder completely our national priorities, redefine our foreign-policy paradigm, convert our economy, and restructure our armed forces. Progressives have an opportunity to enter this debate and to convince our families, colleagues, and neighbors that we need not fear and have much to gain by taking such a course.
This change will not come easily, but the opportunity will never be as great as it is today.