From 1961 to Egypt today; Eisenhower’s warnings & advice hold true
The situation in Egypt has broad implications for U.S. foreign policy and military aid, and should be seen as an opportunity to make a major shift from an aggressive policy footing to a human rights based model.
When the democratically elected government of Egypt was overthrown by its army on July 3rd 2013, the Obama administration was faced with a serious foreign policy dilemma. On the one hand, U.S. law forbids sending aid to countries where a democratic government has been deposed by a military coup. On the other hand, Egypt is an important regional ally, whose assistance we rely upon. Should the Obama administration adhere to the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) and cut off military aid to Egypt, thereby demonstrating its respect for the principle of civilian-controlled government, but risking damage to the relationship? Or should they disregard the law and continue giving aid so that Egypt will continue following policies which are in the ‘best interests’ of the United States?
The Obama administration’s response to this situation has been to try to have it both ways. In Orwellian fashion, the administration refused to label the coup as a coup, instead taking care to refer to it as a “popular uprising.” Refusal to use the “c-word” is an attempt to create a legal loophole in the Foreign Assistance Act, which requires a total cessation of aid in the case of a coup. Public discontent has put pressure on Obama to do something, so while still not acknowledging the coup, the State department announced it will cut $250 million of the $1.7 billion military aid package and suspend delivery of some aircraft and tanks. The Obama administration downplayed the significance of the cuts and went to pains to let the media know they were not considered “punitive.” Even so, the Egyptian government now describes relations between the two countries as “in turmoil.”
The situation in Egypt illustrates two major flaws in our foreign policy, which in the long run paint us into corners and alienate us from the global community:
1. U.S. foreign policy is driven by the Military Industrial Complex.
2. Inconsistency and double standards with respect to the adherence to law and international treaties.
The first flaw - Just what Eisenhower warned us about
During World War II, this nation converted its civilian manufacturing base into the creation of weapons and military equipment. However, the arms industry did not revert back to its original functions upon the war’s end; instead, it continued to grow and expand. The Cold War did much to precipitate the amount of money our government was spending on the arms race and to counter the Soviet threat. Today, the U.S. spends fifty cents out of every discretionary tax dollar on war and militarism. We spend almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined, and we are by far the largest arms exporter in the world, accounting for 78% of such sales. Russia is in second place with 5.6%.
The term “Military Industrial Complex” was first coined by President Eisenhower in 1961 during his farewell address to the nation to describe the unprecedented American arms industry coupled with an immense military establishment. He warned us to “...guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
When you are the largest exporter of arms in the world, and your economy is built around the weapons industry, you need to create a demand for those weapons. Weapons play the role of both “carrot” and “stick” in our foreign relations. We sell, or give arms and equipment to nations as enticement to support our policies, and we use our military to threaten and coerce support of our policies as well. Either way, it involves big money moving into the hands of the American arms industry.
Just a week ago, on October 15th, in what has been called “a big win for the defense industry,” the Obama administration moved oversight for the sale of tens of thousands of military items from the State department to the Commerce department; a move which will relax restrictions and facilitate weapons sales to virtually any country in the world.
Foreign Military “Aid”
President Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act into law at the height of the Cold War in 1961 - the same year as Eisenhower’s speech. The policy states it’s intent to “promote the foreign policy, security, and general welfare of the United States by assisting peoples of the world in their efforts toward economic and social development and internal and external security.”
However, from the beginning U.S. foreign assistance programs were much more about promoting the policies and welfare of the U.S. and its corporate institutions than they were about assisting needy foreign governments.
The military aid that the U.S. “gives” to other countries comes in the way of credits which can only be used to purchase U.S. weapons systems, equipment and training. The cost of those aid credits comes directly out of the pockets of the American taxpayer and right into the bank accounts of the defense industry. The U.S. provides around $50 billion dollars annually to over 150 nations. Our foreign military aid programs keep the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) machine well oiled and running smoothly; with big profits for the likes of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, all courtesy of American taxpayers.
The use of military aid packages to influence and pressure other governments into policies that benefit the U.S. can be seen in Pakistan. Though U.S. combat drones have killed hundreds of innocent civilians there, fueling great resentment with Pakistani people (as well as being in breach of international law). The government of Pakistan remains timid in its criticism, let alone dismissing the U.S. from its airspace, for fear of losing the $3 billion of annual military aid.
Human Rights vs Defense Industry Profits
The stipulations of the Foreign Assistance Act attempt to protect human rights as well as civilian control of the military. In addition to the provisions which prohibit aid to countries under military rule, the Act goes on to state that no assistance shall be provided to a government which:
"engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country.”
Yet the U.S. turns a blind eye to human rights violations and violates its own law by giving military aid to Egypt, Nigeria, Sudan, Colombia, Uganda, Mozambique, and Somalia among others. The Foreign Assistance Act is not the only law U.S. foreign policy overlooks or violates. The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 prohibits the U.S. government from providing military assistance to countries that directly use, or support the use of, child soldiers. Just this month, President Obama issued complete waivers to Yemen, Chad, and South Sudan, opening up those countries to U.S. military aid despite their known use of child soldiers, declaring in a written memorandum it is "in the national interest of the United States" to override the ban. The U.S. has also refused to sign on to the Convention on the Rights of a Child.
The Military Industrial Complex and Congress
The “rise of misplaced power” that Eisenhower warned of is easily seen by the influence the Military Industrial Complex has on Congress and the decisions it makes about war, budgeting, and foreign policy. Defense firms spend millions lobbying Congress to protect their weapons programs from spending cuts and to promote military actions. Senators who voted in favor of a military strike against Syria received an average of 83 percent more money from the defense industry than senators who voted against the resolution.
The second flaw--Do as I say, not as I do
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is a permanent tribunal to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. 153 countries have ratified or signed the treaty, but shamefully, the U.S. is not one of them, giving the reason that Americans must not be subjected to the jurisdiction of the ICC. In fact, the U.S., Israel and Sudan are the only three countries that have specifically notified the UN Secretary General that they do not intend to join the ICC. This aspect of American exceptionalism - that the United States and its citizens are above the law, is a major point of criticism and undermines U.S. diplomacy, particularly when calling on countries to respect the rule of law.
When chemical weapons were used to kill civilians in Syria recently, the U.S. was quick to say that President Assad had violated international law. But instead of referring the case to the International Criminal Court for adjudication, the Obama administration came very close to waging war.
The United Nations charter prohibits the threat or use of force against any other country except in the event of self defense, yet in just the last 12 years the U.S. has launched two full-blown wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and we have attacked Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia with hellfire missiles launched from drones. We have used the two most recent wars to justify the use of torture, external rendition and indefinite detention, as well as multiple violations of the Geneva Conventions.
In addition to refusal to become a party to the ICC, the U.S. has also refused to sign on to the Landmine Treaty, the Cluster Munitions Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Convention against Torture, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Even though the Chemical Weapons Convention was ratified, the U.S. set extensive limitations on how it could be applied in the U.S., essentially gutting its provisions.
A plan for improvement
“America is today the strongest, the most influential and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America's leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961
Once again, President Eisenhower had it right. Since 1961 we have built a foreign policy through fear, intimidation, and coercion. We have ignored opportunities to join the international community and have instead shown arrogance and disregard for other nations and their peoples. We espouse support for human rights, but ignore them in the interest of corporate profits.
The U.S. can change our course and take the following steps to fix the flaws in our foreign policy:
1. Join the International Criminal Court. Americans should be subject to the same international laws to which we hold others. If the United States would abide by the Geneva Conventions and the UN Charter, we wouldn’t have to worry about the prosecution of Americans for war crimes.
2. Sign on to all international weapons treaties. Virtually the entire global community has outlawed the use of weapons which have a high rate of civilian fatalities, such as cluster munitions and landmines. The United States needs to start valuing the lives of all humans as highly as their own citizens.
3. Drastically reduce our military footprint. Close the more than 900 U.S. military installations in 150 countries and return U.S. carrier groups to the United States. Develop diplomatic and cultural envoys in their place.
4. Stop foreign military aid and sales. In order to eliminate the power and control of the Military Industrial Complex, the profit motive must be removed from war and militarism. This could be accomplished by converting the defense industry to civilian purposes, and nationalizing the defense industry.
5. Increase humanitarian aid. Money formerly spent on weapons credits could be spent fighting disease or hunger. Using our dollars to truly assist the people of other countries would be much more effective in building positive and productive relationships with other countries than military aid.
6. Honor human rights. The U.S. must uphold international human rights and never turn a blind eye to other countries which violate them, even if that country is considered an ally. Obama’s waiver of the Child Soldiers Act should be rescinded immediately.
These changes are achievable. They also have the popular support of the majority of American people. We have achieved the dark side of the scenario foretold by President Eisenhower, but we can also achieve his optimistic vision:
“America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.
Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of the battlefield. Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961.
~ Leah Bolger serves as Secretary of Defense in the Foreign Affairs Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet.