letter to editor

It’s hard to argue that our defense budget has much of anything to do with defending the American people, if one looks at the facts.  

For the past two years, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, established by Congress, has been working on developing strategies for the integration of artificial intelligence into U.S. military operations. The idea of this action is to keep up with geopolitical adversaries like China and Russia in the field of AI.  A recent report from NSCAA said: “In the future, warfare will pit algorithm against algorithm. The source of battlefield advantage will shift from traditional factors like force size and levels of armaments to factors like superior data collection and assimilation, connectivity, computing power, algorithms, and system security.”   

However, our defense structure looks different than the facts say it should. President Joe Biden’s first defense budget ($715 billion) is bigger than President Donald Trump’s last budget ($704 billion)! Our bloated military budget is dominated by all kinds of military hardware (tanks, missiles) that are designed to fight the defunct Soviet Union in a ground war in Europe in the 1970s. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, created after Russia interfered in the 2016 election, seems to be ignored in the argument over where to spend. Many of those who track the nation’s cyber defenses say they’re worried that CISA — with roughly 2,000 employees, much smaller than the rest of our defense structure — is so consumed with recovering from the existing breaches that it’s too stretched to prepare for the next attack, potentially making future breaches more widespread or more damaging to U.S. economic and national security. 

Truth be known, our debates on the appropriate size of our military have nothing to do with what we need to defend our country and revolve around what delivers the most to certain parts of the country in terms of jobs related to military spending – the military-industrial complex! For a country obsessed with the size of its government, we certainly give the military-industrial complex a pass.  

Now that we’ve discovered that security in the 21st century doesn’t mean a military designed to face a defunct threat, let’s look at another concept that could save us lots of green when it comes to securing our country — arms control. Getting back to the subject of AI, those in the arms control and human rights community have pointed out that AI, embedded in military equipment, cannot be trusted to follow international law. Technology is not flawless, and a flaw could lead to any military weapon being accidentally fired and then a retaliation will take place on the part of the nation-state that was hit.  

A panel of arms control experts organized by the Arms Control Association recently stated that excessive reliance on AI in the heat of battle could result in deadly consequences, perhaps an unintended nuclear war. To prevent this, the arms control advocates recommended nuclear weapons remain under human control and called for the insertion of “automatic tripwires” in advanced command-and-control systems to disallow escalatory moves without human approval.   

The world will become a more dangerous place with non-human automated weapons littering the world that just might misfire at any time, even though this is a much less capital-intensive endeavor than a Cold War military. Even if we take the emphasis off unneeded weapons systems, we are still living in a dangerous world! 

First, we need to do away with the costly concept of defense we have and put it into social insurance that will make our country more secure on the homefront. Second, we need quality arms control to control AI weaponry! Many say China and Russia cannot be trusted to follow any arms control agreement on this form of weaponry and both states engage in questionable behavior. For the sake of our future, I hope we can move our conflicts out of the military realm and into the political and economic realms.  

Jason Sibert

executive director of the Peace Economy Project  

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