US military spending: Many Americans now believe less is more

Higher percentage show preference for non-military solutions like trade, investment, and diplomacy in a divided world.

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Threats to US national security are wide-ranging, but Americans increasingly want a less militarised international stance [Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP]

United States defence spending is set to reach historic highs in 2020, a level not seen since World War II – except for a handful of years at the height of the Iraq war.

The Republican administration of US President Donald Trump has proposed a defence budget of $750bn for next year, while his Democratic political foes are split on whether to increase or decrease the Pentagon’s outlays.

The American public, however, may be tired of blowing too much of the budget on defending the country.

A survey published on Monday by the Eurasia Group Foundation gauging the foreign policy preferences of US voters found that “more than twice as many Americans want to decrease” US defence spending than those who want to increase it, while half of those surveyed said the government should maintain its current level of military spending.

Those in favour of decreasing defence spending “believe there are greater needs at home where America should devote its resources,” says the report.

‘Fiscally irresponsible’

More pressing priorities that require significant investment – such as infrastructure upgrades, healthcare, education and other domestic needs – was the most common reason cited by those who want to cut military spending.

Lack of fiscal responsibility was the second most cited reason for cutting defence spending, with those surveyed saying the US could divert defence funds towards paying down the national debt – currently in excess of $23 trillion – or cutting taxes.

Others believe the US currently does not face sufficient perils to justify present spending levels.

For the respondents who want to spend more on the military, the most common reason was that the country should augment its capabilities to remain safe in the face of security threats from Russia and China, as well as US-designated terrorist organisations – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.

The next most common reasons were that reversal of prior budget cuts is required to restore the military, and that bulked up armed forces are required to fortify the American people, US allies and – to some extent – the world.

The report says Republicans are about 13 percent more likely than Democrats to believe that Iran is the biggest threat to peace in the Middle East, while Democrats were approximately 10 percent more likely than Republicans to choose Saudi Arabia.

Fewer people in both parties said that either Turkey or Israel was a significant regional threat.

Not an ‘exceptional’ country?

The Eurasia Group Foundation aims to help people make sense of the geopolitical and foreign affairs issues affecting their lives. Their new public opinion report, titled Indispensable No More?, concluded that Americans tend to favour a less aggressive and militarised foreign policy.

It also found that “public confidence in America’s example is apparently eroding. Compared with last year, fewer Americans believe the U.S. is exceptional for what it represents, and more believe the U.S. is not an exceptional country.”

In the past year alone, the number of Americans who believe that the US is “not an exceptional nation” has risen by seven percent.

Compared with last year, fewer Americans believe the U.S. is exceptional for what it represents.

by Eurasia Group Foundation report, Indispensable No More?

Meanwhile, the survey says that almost 40 percent of Americans think the greatest threat to the US in the 21st century is a “rise in populist and authoritarian governments”.

About a quarter believe the biggest danger is how Americans themselves are becoming “distrustful of democratic institutions”.

Trade wars are perceived as the third most significant danger, with 18.5 percent of respondents – a notable increase over last year’s report – concerned they will “damage America’s economy and trade relations with other countries”.

Researcher and coauthor Caroline Gray said the report explores the benefits and consequences of a “less interventionist” approach.

She told Al Jazeera that the goal was to analyse “the American public’s view on what path America should take going forward”.

The report concludes that “technological changes, environmental crises, mass migrations, and the resurgence of ultranationalism and authoritarianism all complicate America’s international influence.”

But it also says the US can reap a post-Cold War “peace dividend” by reaffirming its “independence in an interdependent world”.

Source: Al Jazeera