Defence Policy

Posted on July 18, 2013 at 11:22 am,

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. On Tuesday, we started the chapter on Defence policy, looking at the question of whether Christians should be pacifists, or whether we could participate in a “Just War”. Today we’re looking at defence policy – Grudem talks just about the United States, but some of it applies more generally. His arguments depend on the view he previously argued that a just war is possible, and that governments have a duty to protect their nation from attacks. Here, he points out that no nation should use military power to conquer another, or to impose their ideas of social good on another nation (we may come back to this point in future posts).

Does Grudem advocate an arms race?

Grudem believes that, if a nation has the responsibility to protect itself from attack, then the United States should have enough military power to defeat any nation or combination of nations that has the potential to attack it. He says that some people might say that having so much military power is dangerous because it increases tension and instability. He dismisses this idea because he thinks that it assumes that the cause of evil is in some outside cause, rather than in human hearts.

However, his dismissal doesn’t actually deal with the objection. The existence of massive military forces has often been viewed as a threat by nations that do not have them. The arms race between Britain and Germany was one of the causes of World War One. During the Cold War, the military might of the USSR was viewed by Americans as evidence that the Soviets wanted to expand by conquest, and vice versa. If one nation has overwhelming military force, the sinful human heart is likely to fear that this is for sinister reasons.

I have one other problem with Grudem’s point of view – basically it justifies for an arms race. If the US should have enough military power to defeat any other nation, then – logically speaking – so should everybody else. If everybody acted on this, then it would only be a matter of time before the entire global economy existed solely to fuel the arms industry. Clearly, therefore, there have to be some limits on the build-up of military forces.

Where are the major threats to security?

Grudem lists a number of possible threats – nations he believes would invade and conquer another nation if they thought they could succeed. This list was compiled in early 2010. He lists North Korea (fair enough), and Iran (whose threat is almost certainly exaggerated), who might possibly launch a missile at US base or a US ally. He says that Russia could easily become a threat to both the US and to parts of Eastern Europe. He says that China is currently friendly to the US, thanks to trade, but could become a military threat in the future. He believes that Islamic terrorist groups from the Muslim world are the greatest current threat to US national security. He also briefly acknowledges that computer attacks are a part of the potential threat from China, but does not mention that such “cyber-terrorism” is widely considered one of the major security threats that will cause concern in the 21st century (alongside terrorism and climate change)

The most controversial part of his list concerns Latin America. He identifies Cuba (under Castro) and Venezuela (under Chavez) as “military dictatorships”. Whilst you could argue this in the case of Cuba, claiming that Chavez was a military dictator suggests that Grudem has been taking Fox News a bit too seriously. Chavez gained power via the ballot box, and maintained it by being re-elected. Even if you think that the elections in question were rigged, it’s clear that Chavez didn’t maintain power by military force (unless you count parts of the military helping to defeat a coup d’etat in 2002). Anyway, Grudem claims that these two nations have destabilised a number of governments in the region. He specifically mentions Columbia (with no sense of irony about the effect of American involvement in that country). Whilst it is laughable that any part of Latin America is on course to become a military threat to the US, Grudem is right that the growth of left-wing governments in the region means that many Latin American countries are more hostile to the US than they used to be.

Defending Others

Grudem says out that the US military has the most troops (actually, it has fewer than China) and spends the most on its armed forces of any nation in the world (the most recent figure I’ve seen is 39% of global spending) and says that, as a result, they carry a lot of the responsibility for maintaining world peace. He points out that the US is a part of NATO (a defensive alliance), said that the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 set a precedent for the US defending its allies (it actually said that the US would prevent European powers from attacking or colonising any nation in the Americas – ally or not), and adds that the US has a number of other military alliances. Grudem believes that such alliances are good, because they provide a deterrent for potential aggressors, and contribute to world peace. He does not acknowledge that there are circumstances where such alliances can make war more likely (the most prominent example being World War One, where the alliances between European powers enabled a relatively small dispute between Austria and Serbia to escalate into a continent-wide war).

Grudem says that a major goal of the American military should be to preserve the independence and freedom of democratic nations (which, presumably, means that he disapproves of much of what went on under the banner of the Cold War). He cites the US Declaration of Independence in support of this, rather than any Christian principle.

He spends some time attacking the views of Ron Paul, an American congressman who ran for President a couple of times. Ron Paul believes that the US should be non-interventionist – not getting involved in foreign wars, not stationing US troops abroad, and not even giving foreign aid. Ron Paul believes that such interventions are a threat to American liberty, and are at odds with the views of America’s founding fathers.

In response, Grudem points out that America’s the founding fathers might have been non-interventionists, they did not write it into the American constitution. He says that, in Obadiah 11, God condemned the nation of Edom for standing by when Israel was attacked and defeated. He also says that the US’s great power gives them a responsibility to help weak nations with whom they have allied (he doesn’t say anything about weak nations who have not allied with the US). He also lists a few circumstances where American intervention has probably made the world a better place. Though his summary of what would have happened without the first Iraq war is somewhat bizarre (apparently, Saddam Hussein would have conquered Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait – even though he showed no signs of intending to. And he would have exported terrorism around the world, even though he was as much an enemy of groups like Al Quaeda as any Western government, and even though much of the Islamic extremism we see today has its roots in the types of radical Islam promoted in Saudi Arabia, rather than the secular Islam that Saddam favoured).

Is a strong US Military good for the world?

Grudem says that it is wise to think that superior military weaponry should be in the hands of a nation that protects freedom for itself and other countries. He says that defence cuts under President Obama are a tragic mistake for undermining that principle. He cites the cut in funds for the F22 fighter – which is apparently the most capable fighter ever built. He does not consider the possibility that fighter jets are not the most effective weapon for the threats of the 21st century, as threats become less about conventional armies and more about terrorism, computer hacking, and environmental issues.

One flaw with this particular philosophy is the apparent assumption that such military forces should be primarily under the control of the US. Whilst it may come as a surprise to many Americans, their country is considered an oppressor in many countries around the world. And even if the US is benevolent today, there is no guarantee that it will stay that way. It would not be wise for the world to be dependant on the US being and staying a benevolent world power.

However, the biggest flaw with this line of reasoning is that the US currently accounts for about 39% of global military spending (with just 4.46% of the population). The next biggest spenders are China (9.5% of spending, 19.08% of population), Russia (5.2%, 2.02%), the United Kingdom (3.5%, 0.89%), Japan (3.4%, 1.79%), and France (3.4%, 0.93%). If the US is spending more than twice as much on its armed forces as the next two nations combined (despite only having a fifth of the population), there’s probably quite a lot of room for reducing that budget without endangering anybody’s security. And since there are other democratic nations with very large defence budgets, it’s quite clear that the US doesn’t have to be the only nation playing global policeman.

Should we have nuclear weapons?

Grudem mentions the history of nuclear weapons, claims that the use of nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War Two saved more lives than they killed. He notes which nations have nuclear weapons, that Iran is trying to acquire them, and claims that Al Qaeda have attempted to obtain them. He believes that the threat of using nuclear weapons is what prevents nations which have them from using them, and that once a weapon is invented it is impossible to get rid of it – somebody, somewhere, will always ensure that they have it.

Grudem believes that there are two possible ways to prevent countries from using nuclear weapons. Firstly, the existence of a superior nuclear force (i.e. somebody with more nukes than you) and secondly by an anti-missile defence system that can prevent nukes from reaching their target. Grudem believes that the United States has the responsibility to develop both in order to protect both itself and its allies.

When it comes to the missile shield idea, Grudem says that the idea has been repeatedly proven to work, citing tests where one missile has hit another. He does not mention any tests against large numbers of incoming missiles, including decoys and countermeasures. As the tests are currently classified, we don’t know whether such a system would work in practice.

Grudem criticises a number of President Obama’s actions on the issue of both nuclear weapons and the proposed missile defence shield. He thinks that a mutal agreement with Russia to reduce the number of nuclear weapons both nations have will endanger American national security, as will not pursuing a new generation of nuclear weapons , and ratifying the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty (an international agreement to ban nuclear tests – almost every other nation that could test a nuke has already ratified it). He also criticises decisions to withdraw anti-missile defence stations in Eastern Europe. He claims that the systems would have protected Europe from possible Russian or Iranian nuclear attack (not true – the system as currently proposed would only protect the US). He says that Russia was delighted at this news because it would be easier for it to attack and regain control over Eastern Europe. In reality, Russia was probably more relieved than delighted. They still view the US as a potential aggressor, and if the US has a working missile defence shield, it means that Russia’s nukes will not be a deterrent.

Who should serve?

Another issue that Grudem brings up is the question of who should serve in the armed forces. He doesn’t address the question of whether the armed forces should be drafted or volunteer-based. But he does address two groups whose ability to serve in the military has been controversial.

Gays in the military

The question of whether gays and lesbians can serve in the armed forces has been the subject of intense debate in the US, but relatively uncontroversial in most other countries. Grudem states that it has always been the US policy not to let those with a known homosexual orientation to serve in the armed forces, and believes that biblical commands forbidding sexual activity with somebody of the same sex as yourself should make Christians support such a policy. He cites a number of military officers who believe that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military would harm morale, good order and discipline, and unit cohesion. Since Grudem wrote this, the issue has become somewhat academic – the policy of not allowing gays and lesbians to serve has now been lifted, and an American federal appeals court has ruled that the previous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was illegal.

Women in combat

Grudem also briefly addresses the role of women within the armed forces. Whilst he has no problem with women being in the military, he does not agree that they should be in combat roles and is dubious about women serving as fighter pilots. He points out that, historically speaking, Christians have held the view that actual combat is a responsibility that should only fall to men, and that this is repeatedly assumed throughout the Bible.

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