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Welfare State

July 21, 2012

Rosa Brooks in Foreign Policy:

F. Scott Fitzgerald, meticulous chronicler of American social class, famously confided to Ernest Hemingway that “the rich are different from the rest of us.”

“Yes,” was Hemingway’s laconic reply. “They have more money.”

These days, the same could be said of the American military. Is the military different from the rest of us? Yes — it has more money.

This is true in a multitude of ways. Start with the obvious: if we view military spending as synonymous with defense spending (which it’s not, really, but pretend it is for now), boy, does it have more money. In 2011, the United States spent an estimated $768 billion on defense. Defense spending has gone down a tad since then — by the time I ended a two-year stint as counselor to the under secretary of defense for policy in summer 2011, we were beginning to speak glumly of the coming age of austerity. But the Pentagon budget still dwarfs pretty much everything else. The poor little State Department, for instance, shared a measly $55 billion with USAID and numerous other international programs. (…)

More and more, we’re funding the military to take on a multitude of tasks that would once have been considered the province of civilian government agencies. Inevitably, this blurs the boundary of just what constitutes a military task and what constitutes a civilian task. Which in turn raises a deeper question: Should we view these developments as the militarization of American foreign policy (and, increasingly, of domestic policy as well)? Or is this phenomenon better understood as something different — as, perhaps, the civilianization of the military, or the metamorphosis of the military into something still unknown, in support of ever-murkier strategic aims?

To put the question a little differently, in today’s interconnected, globalized world — in which the lines between “war” and other kinds of “security threat” have blurred, in which it’s harder and harder to distinguish between battlefields and zones of peace, between foreign and domestic, between civilians and combatants — what exactly is the American military? More to the point, what’s it for? (And if the answer is, “everything,” then what happens to our longstanding assumptions about civilian control of the military?) [More]

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