The era of American military dominance, or “Pax Americana,” is dwindling as the nation loses its position far atop the global marketplace, a congressional military analyst said Wednesday.
The new dynamic - in which the U.S. remains a world force, but does not hold the pre-eminent position it attained after World War II - is the result of global financial centers shifting to Asia, said Stephen Daggett, a defense policy and budget specialist for the Congressional Research Service.
“The days of the American Century were really in the last 50 years of the 20th century,” told members of the House Armed Services Committee.
While the hearing focused on long-term budget constraints of the military, including balancing spending on weapons and equipment versus payments to soldiers and civilian workers, the overarching question of the nation’s military status drew repeated questions from lawmakers.
“I don’t believe the ending of Pax Americana is anything inevitable,” said Thomas Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former staff member of the House Armed Services Committee.
The term has been loosely used to describe America’s global dominance after World War II and derives from the 200-year period of “Pax Romana” or Roman peace, when the Roman empire stopped expanding.
“I think that issue needs a lot more reflection,” Mr. Donnelly said.
The question of American military power comes as President Obama decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and a 2010 troop withdrawal from Iraq hangs in the balance.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced plans in April to shift the Pentagon’s spending on traditional weapons systems and focus on counterinsurgency strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The $681 billion budget - as calculated by the Congressional Budget Office for the current budget year, including supplemental spending - is dominated by personnel costs and is likely to continue that way through the next decade, analysts said.
Some of that is accounted for by increased number of troops since the nation entered war in Iraq and Afghanistan, although much of that has been a long-term shift in spending away from spending on weapons and procurements during the Reagan-era to a focus on personnel costs that began under President Bill Clinton.
Defense budget writers have been held largely exempt from having to make long-term strategic decisions since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 because of a combination of political good will and the use of supplemental spending bills to pay for programs, said David Berteau, analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“I think one of the saddest things is they’ve quit keeping score. There is no longer a rigorous process inside the Pentagon,” Mr. Berteau said. “The Pentagon has not been disciplined since before September 11.”
Still, military spending as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product has remained relatively slight at 1 percent currently, compared with a post-World War II peak of 14 percent during the Korean War, Mr. Donnelly said.
“It seems this administration finds massive amounts of money for bailout and [stimulus spending] but not enough to fund the basic money needed for defensive hardware and personnel,” said Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican.