Natural disaster, pandemics, abject poverty, environmental degradation – all human security issues and all a growing threat to regional and international security. Where the U.S. military has sought to respond to these challenges in the Pacific theater, the operations have shown the ability to enhance stability and security while fostering ties with regional governments.
Despite this demonstrated success, human security operations remain an underused component of U.S. diplomatic and military strategy. Funding for human security is often overlooked in favor of politically exciting weapons systems. With mandatory budget cuts, known as sequestration, the Pentagon is facing a $500 billion cut in its budget allocations over the next decade. Even with this new constraint, the military must not overlook the importance of human security.
To date, the U.S. approach to human security has mostly been limited to responding to natural disasters, such as the Haiti earthquake in 2010. This limitation is due in no small part to a “plans-reality mismatch”: rather than expanding human security operations, the military is predominantly concerned with developing new weapons systems that, ultimately, prove unnecessary.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Even as politicians squabble over government spending, the Pentagon continues to fund exorbitant programs, often making spending decisions for political, rather than strategic or budgetary, considerations. This plans-reality mismatch is perhaps epitomized by the ballistic missile defense program and F-22 Raptor fighter jet. These two programs are an ineffective defense against nonexistent threats that divert limited resources away from less expensive and more effective programs. The F-22 Raptor was originally slated to cost $149 million per jet. Nearly a decade behind schedule, costs soared to over $400 million per aircraft, making it the most expensive fighter jet in history. Shortly after the F-22 became operational in 2005, several Air Force pilots refused to fly it due to health and safety concerns, leading the entire fleet to be grounded. Despite being marketed as the most advanced fighter jet ever conceived, the F-22 never saw combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, or during military operations over Libya. After investing $63.7 billion in the program, the Pentagon cancelled all further purchases in 2012, after procuring just 188 of the 750 jets it had originally planned.
As for Defense Department plans for an anti-ballistic missile shield, the Pentagon invested $149.5 billion on ballistic missile defense between 1985 and 2012, not including the $9.7 billion it spent in 2013, according to the Missile Defense Agency. Tasked with what has been described as “hitting a bullet with a bullet,” the system is designed to shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles headed towards the U.S. However, it failed to intercept eight of 16 controlled test missiles – with the last successful test intercept occurring five years ago. Systemic failures in the program led 50 Nobel laureates to pen an open letter to Congress expressing doubts that the system could be effective. One of those voicing his concerns was University of Texas physics professor and Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, who concluded: “Our missile defense program is an expensive, ineffective defense against an implausible threat.” Yet ballistic missile defense has remained at the forefront of a flawed defense strategy.
In the years to come, the U.S. will be increasingly forced to confront non-traditional security challenges, including human security threats, which will require non-traditional military responses. Operations in the Pacific theater have produced notable gains in regional stability, for both indigenous populations and American interests. In 2003, just 15 percent of Indonesians held a favorable opinion of the United States. Following the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, and subsequent U.S. response, including deployment of the hospital ship USNS Mercy to assist in relief efforts, America’s approval rating in Indonesia soared to 38 percent.