By Li Xiang
Recently, the US House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, in which the total defense budget increased to $717 billion, nearly $20 billion more than the previous fiscal year. It has hit a record high since 2008.
With the US defense budget having been on a scale of about $700 billion for two consecutive fiscal years, the US budget sequestration in 2013 (automatic spending cuts to US federal government spending), a policy adopted during the Obama presidency, has practically become an empty talk, because half of the cuts of fiscal expenditure required by the policy fell on defense spending.
Shortly after Donald Trump was sworn-in as President of the United States, he signed a presidential memorandum on “Rebuilding the US Armed Forces” in favor of maintaining a strong combat readiness. Since then, he had repeatedly stressed that "military priority" was a strength basis for "America First" and "to make the American military great again" was an important prerequisite for "making America great again".
The argument of Trump was directly reflected as the emphasis on “Great Power Competition” in the National Security Strategy Report and the National Defense Strategy issued by the US government.
To achieve this goal, the US armed forces have accelerated specific strategic layout adjustments.
Firstly, they rebuilt the US Second Fleet and dispatched it to the North Atlantic Ocean to counter threats from Russia. Soon after, the “United States Pacific Command (USPACOM)” was renamed to “United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM)”, strengthening the US military strength's deployment, development and integration in the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean.
However, “the goal is far more ideal than the reality.” The US armed forces have failed to live up to Trump’s expectations. Scandals like ship collisions, drug abuses, and rapes have repeatedly incurred.
Last year, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) and the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) both collided with other ships, and caused the total deaths of 17 officers and soldiers. This year, the media made it public that several soldiers of the 90th Missile Wing, one of the nuclear forces of the US Air Force that is stationed at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base located in Wyoming, had long been purchasing, distributing and taking drugs.
What’s worse, the US military troops stationed overseas are less popular among the local. According to a report from the RAND Corporation, over the past 10 years, the probability that US military troops overseas were attacked has increased by almost 15%. It was up to 20% in the Middle East and Africa, which meant at least one attack against the US military forces overseas occurred on average within every half a month.
In October last year, four members of the special forces of the US Africa Command were killed in the Niger attack which completely shocked the entire US military. The US Department of Defense was forced to conduct an in-depth investigation and reflection.
The reality underlying these phenomena is that, it is impractical to back up the great dream of “making America great again” just by simply pouring more money into the US military.
Since Trump took office over a year, he has carried out a series of “exit” decisions, together with the unilateralism and trade protectionism policies. It has seriously damaged the reputation of the US government and impaired the “soft power” and “leadership” of the United States in the West.
Today, safety and stability are expectations of people around the world, and cooperation and win-win are the general trends. The US cannot “make itself great again” by simply investing more in its defense spending.
The US authorities should realize that the main obstacle to reach its "Make America Great Again" goal is not that its military is not strong enough, but the reckless measures it takes to become the only superpower.
(The author is Li Xiang from the War Studies College of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Chinese PLA. The article is published on the PLA Daily, translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military online.)