This Friday marks the 228th anniversary of Congress’ decision to establish a professional standing US army in defence of the fledgling republic against a myriad of threats. In doing so, they influenced the law-makers of the new nation to overcome their own ideological concerns about the damage that a standing army can do. Initially they had believed its establishment would conflict with the ideals of liberty and freedom from centralised control that this new nation had been founded on.
Since then, America’s military has changed dramatically in scale and outlook. Once a necessary ideological concession to ensure security, America’s military now dominates every continent. The US defence budget is by far and away the largest of any nation on earth; it is two times the size of its closest rival, China. Nowadays America has no serious rival to its economic, diplomatic and military hegemony in any part of the world. The upwards trend in defence spending and foreign expansion which started in 1789, reached its zenith in the second half of the 20th century. Now, this might be about to change.
With the raucous political events of 2016, as well as the fall out we have witnessed in 2017, America’s military priorities have again been brought back into question. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been widely criticised for harking back to the “America First” Isolationism of the 1920s; this was a sentiment that we thought was banished to the dustbin of history since WWII. US involvement in that conflict, and the global hegemony that was seemingly its reward and its burden, marked the beginning of an era that we may soon start to see crumble around them.
However, as with much that this new President does and says, his true direction is by no means clear. President Trump’s increased willingness to use American military force as a weapon of diplomacy (such as the use of the “Mother Of All Bombs” in Afghanistan, five months ago) and his apparent keenness to escalate international tension through the trading of insults with other world leaders suggests that his administration may well take a different course than expected.