Criticism of U.S. military policy is often viewed as anti-American, hostile to soldiers, and most likely a veiled argument for disarmament, isolationism or pacifism, says author Andrew Bacevich, Director of the Center for International Relations at Boston University. Mr. Bacevich, a West Point graduate and Vietnam war veteran, argues that none of those criticisms apply to his book The New American Militarism.
Mr. Bacevich says, "My book is to invite American citizens to consider the possibility that we may have become infatuated with military power since the end of the Cold War. We have come to embrace a set of ideas about war and military power that are radically at odds with the founding ideals of our country. And that will inevitably and, I argue, is already producing defective policies."
The United States spends more on defense than the 32 next most powerful nations combined. And Andrew Bacevich writes that since the end of the Cold War, the United States has been committed to maintaining military capabilities far greater than those of any would-be adversary or combination of adversaries.
He argues that war is increasingly the American way of life, a development to which the events of September 11 only added momentum.
A striking aspect of the drift toward, what Andrew Bacevich calls "new militarism" has been the absence of dissent.
According to Mr. Bacevich, "Credit for militarism goes to a wide variety of political actors and groups. It is, in fact, a bipartisan project to which not simply conservatives and Republicans have contributed, but to which liberals and Democrats have made an enormous contribution. More broadly, the great majority of the American people have at least tacitly endorsed these ideas."
Professor Bacevich suggests military might is no longer seen as a tool to defend the United States or to deter would-be aggressors, but as a means to solve problems around the world, like in Somalia, Haiti, and Kosovo.
Mr. Bacevich says, "Americans have moved away from the notion that force is to be used only as the last resort. We have, in effect, moved far along the path that assumes that the use of force is the best way, the most effective way, to get done what we need to get done in the world."
Andrew Bacevich adds that political leaders increasingly view the military as a means to create an international order that accommodates commonly accepted American values.
But Gary Schmitt, Executive Director of the Project for a New American Century takes issue with Professor Bacevich. He says the U.S. military should not be confused with America's security strategy.
Mr. Schmitt adds, "We do have a large military compared to the rest of the world, but it is so large because we have global commitments like deterring North Korea, deterring China from taking Taiwan or, in the past, keeping Saddam out of Kuwait and protecting stability in the European rim, such as the Balkans. The reason we used those tools, intervening in places like Kosovo or Somalia, was not done for militaristic purposes. It was done to relieve people of terrible tragedies and slaughter."
Mr. Schmitt says the cost of world leadership is not trivial. But even with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's military budget still is less than five percent of U.S. gross domestic product. That is quite low, he says, in comparison with more than four decades of spending during the Cold War, which averaged 23 % of GDP.
"Defense spending in terms of actual numbers has gone up, but as a percentage of our economy it has actually dropped fairly significantly over the years," says Mr. Schmitt. "Our deficit problems have to do with the fact that a lot of our social welfare programs' spending have increased dramatically as our population has gotten older. The deficit problems have less to do with military spending than with the changing dynamics of what the government spends its money on."
Federalism, democracy and open markets were the widely shared values upon which Cold War alliances were built. Shared values in the 21st century, notes Mr. Schmitt, include international order, control of weapons of mass destruction, countering terrorism and illicit drugs, and promoting trade and economic growth.
But above all, he says, the United States has the responsibility to protect its democracy and support the cause of freedom throughout the world.
Mr. Schmitt says, "We are also a nation that realizes, both for moral and strategic reasons, that protecting other democracies and promoting democracy is the best way for increased peace and prosperity. So there will be times when we use our military to protect those democracies and also rare occasions, like in Iraq, when we remove a dictator to try to promote democracies."
Critics and supporters of American military policy agree the United States must use its power prudently.
This report was broadcast on the VOA Focus Program. To see more Focus stories click here.