Policy Brief: Rethinking Security

No matter the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, the years to come will be crucial in setting the left foreign policy agenda. Activists and progressive representatives in Congress are faced with either reining in the worst tendencies of a second Trump term or ensuring that a first Biden term does not revert to the Obama-era status quo on military spending, drone strikes, counter-terrorism operations and turning a blind eye to human rights violations by security partners or the United States itself.

Fellow Travelers Blog is therefore pleased to bring you the first in a series of policy briefs laying out clear steps to re-think and re-orient US foreign policy. Whether you’re an activist lobbying your representative’s office, a staffer lobbying your boss, or a Congressperson lobbying your colleagues, these policy briefs will lay out actionable steps to rein in military spending, reduce our country’s role in instigating and exacerbating conflicts the world over, and re-orient our foreign policy to addressing critical global challenges like climate change.    

By Kate Kizer

Takeaway: Ax $350 billion from the Pentagon’s budget.

Less than a week away from an election that will be unlike any other we have faced in our lifetimes, amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases, ongoing police murders of Black people across the country, and no end of wildfires, extreme weather, and droughts, it’s easy to stay in the darkness and not see a light at the end of the tunnel. Indeed, stealing a Supreme Court seat so as to potentially steal the election could be seen as the canary dying in the coal mine for the future of our country. Yet if 2020 has set any precedent, it’s that anything could happen, which is reason for hope. 

This year’s unprecedented death and destruction has made it blatantly clear that the way the US government thinks about security and how it provides it to its people is woefully inadequate, corrupt, and biased. If 2021 gives us a new administration and a new Congress that could be the most progressive yet, there is a chance for the US government to fundamentally reassess and reprioritize how it funds security to ensure the safety of people in the United States and help facilitate the safety of those around the world. 

The principle that must drive this reorientation, if we are to address and prepare for future threats to human security this century, is abolition.

Overnight, the long-time calls to defund the police by the Movement for Black Lives became a mainstream position this summer. Such rapid culture shifts are rare, but when they occur domestically, they inevitably impact our foreign policy. If we want to truly address the structural and generational impacts of white supremacy and racism on our society and government, we must defund institutions that create international insecurity as well as those that do so locally. 

Just as more training or more funding won’t end the epidemic of police violence, the F-35 and more nuclear weapons that could wipe out existence in the blink of an eye won’t do anything to address the truly existential threats we face in this era: increasingly extreme climate and weather patterns, global pandemics, state violence, and runaway corruption and techno-authoritarianism. Increasing resources for tools that fail to keep us safe only reinforces the structural problems that drive human insecurity.

As we rethink the way the US government approaches security as a whole, we needn’t bother engaging with the idea of a kinder, gentler version of militarism; we tried that during the Obama administration and it resulted in a doubling down of entrenched interests’ control over policy priorities, a further worsening of the death and destruction of the status quo, and the foundation for the rise of Trump. Defunding tools of state violence as a whole – whether police departments or nuclear weapons labs – is the path to abolishing militarism as the United States’ primary approach to security. 

With budget restrictions under the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) expiring in Fiscal Year 2022 – the federal budget Congress will consider next calendar year – Congress will have the first opportunity in a decade to fundamentally reorient our spending priorities. Rather than be sucked in by the industry-peddled idea that continuous Pentagon spending increases are inevitable and necessary to keep us safe, Congress must seek to begin to defund and undo the institutional structures that have contributed to the militarization of security. That should start with an across the board topline budget reduction of at least $350 billion annually to fund a just transition to a green economy, end the Pentagon’s unique role in driving the climate crisis, and (re)invest in communities within our borders and beyond that have been negatively impacted by US policy decisions.

The Movement for Black Lives’ seminal piece of legislation, The BREATHE Act, already provides a blueprint for how Congress can defund state violence at home and abroad, while redirecting much needed resources to address the cross-challenges that everyday people face – whether economic, physical, social, or otherwise – in seeking safety for themselves, their families, and their communities. The question remains whether Congress will, as the people’s representatives, seize this opportunity to fundamentally reimagine how the state will provide for its people next year. 


Kate Kizer is the policy director at Win Without War. Follow her on Twitter @KateKizer.

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