Why the U.S. Must Press for Disarmament

Philip Kotler
11 min readApr 10, 2021

March 30, 2021

Why The U.S. Must Press for Disarmament

Philip Kotler

The future of the world will be determined by three countries: United States, China and Russia. These three countries are actively engaged in arms buildup. The U.S. spends the largest annual budget on arms buildup, only second is China and then Russia. Each country justifies its arms buildup as a defense measure in response to the level of arms buildup by the other two.

If the three countries could reach an agreement to simultaneously lower their defense budgets, they could more quickly pursue their own national goals to serve the interests of their people. The billions saved could be redirected to improve their national education system, their national health system, and their decaying infrastructure. Instead of building idle battleships and rusting aircraft and tanks, the money could raise the standard of living, happiness and well-being of their citizens. Think of the metaphor “to turn our swords into ploughshares.” Think of the sculpture by Evgenly Vuchetich in the United Nations Art Collection.

Consider the agreement in 2013 between China and Russia to dismantle nuclear weapons and use their contents to fuel civilian electric power stations. Instead of building more nuclear weapons, use nuclear energy to supply the world with more electricity and more rapid economic development.

What has been the history of disarmament? What has kept the leaders of nations from calling each other to meet and discuss measures to build a more peaceful and hopeful world? Can’t U.S. President Joe Biden propose a meeting with Chairman Xi Jingling of China and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia to sit down and hammer out a new agreement to slow down their military buildups to the advantage of all of them? Won’t they recognize that the continuous buildup of their military weaponry and budgets will inevitably result in the most disastrous war that will kill so many citizens and leave all three nations poorer and desolate?

A Brief History of Disarmament

Disarmament can take two forms. Competing nations can meet and agree to reduce their overall budget for military equipment and arms by a certain amount or percentage in the coming year or years. Or they can agree to limit or abolish specific types of weaponry such as nuclear bombs or toxic biological or chemical weapons. The former was defined by the United Nations General Assembly as the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction (WMD) along with the ““balanced reduction of armed forces and conventional armaments, based on the principle of undiminished security of the parties with a view to promoting or enhancing stability at a lower military level, taking into account the need of all States to protect their security.”

While general disarmament is the preferred solution, progress can be advanced by banning or limiting specific weaponry. Consider the following three examples:

· 1970: Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)

· 1975: Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)

· 1997: Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is an international treaty aiming to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament. Between 1965 and 1968, the treaty was negotiated by the Eighteen Nation Committee on Disarmament, a United Nations-sponsored organization based in Geneva, Switzerland. The treaty entered into force in 1970. In May 1995, the treaty was extended indefinitely. As of August 2016, 191 states have become parties to the treaty. North Korea signed in 1985 but did not comply and announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003. Four UN member states never accepted the NPT, three of which possess or are thought to possess nuclear weapons: India, Israel, and Pakistan. The treaty defines nuclear-weapon states as those that have built and tested a nuclear explosive device before 1 January 1967; these are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China. Four other states are known or believed to possess nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Iran had taken steps toward building a nuclear bomb while Israel is deliberately ambiguous regarding its nuclear weapons status. The Committee on Disarmament does its best to prevent more states from getting into nuclear weapons and occasionally tries to get nuclear countries to reduce their number of nuclear bombs. The five authorized nuclear weapons states still have 13,400 warheads in their combined stockpile. Several United Nations officials have said that they can do little to stop states using nuclear reactors to produce nuclear weapons.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) treaty (1975) bans biological and toxin weapons by prohibiting their development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use. As of February 2021, 183 states have signed the treaty. The Convention is of unlimited duration. The BWC states that the use of biological weapons would be “repugnant to the conscience of mankind”. Not a single state today declares to possess or seek biological weapons. The Convention’s effectiveness is somewhat limited in the absence of any formal verification regime to monitor compliance.

The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) (1997) is an arms control treaty administered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an intergovernmental organization based in The Hague. It prohibits the large-scale use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of chemical weapons except for very limited purposes (research, medical, pharmaceutical or protective). Member states are obligated to effect this prohibition, as well as the destruction of all current chemical weapons. Syria’s government was accused of chlorine-gas attacks on communities in 2014–2015. Syria handed over stockpiles of mustard gas and deadly nerve agents and these were destroyed. Destruction activities must take place under OPCW verification. By 2021, 193 states have become parties to the CWC and accept its obligations. As of February 2021, 98% of the worlds declared chemical weapons stockpiles had been destroyed. The convention provides for systematic evaluation of chemical production facilities, and for investigations of allegations of use and production of chemical weapons based on intelligence of other state parties.

As an issue, disarmament had been debated earlier at the Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907. Convention delegates created an international court with binding powers. The court saw the cause of war as the escalating buildup of armaments. The League of Nations, formed in January 1920, committed its signatories to reduce armaments ‘to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations’. A further commission in 1926, set up to explore the possibilities for the reduction of army size, met similar difficulties.

In 1935, Germany’s Hitler gave his military a blank check to begin rearmament in direct violation of the Reich’s treaty. Germany sought to build the largest army and air force in Central Europe. Other European countries has little choice but to rearm as well. Meanwhile the Japanese military was engaged in building up its military forces. World War II was inevitable. After the Western powers finally defeated the Axis powers, Western leaders forced Germany and Japan to demobilize and disarm. Japan was forced to swear off forever military capability, outside of self-defense. Pacificism became internalized in the Japanese psyche. But 70 years later, in 2015, Japan started to rebuild its military given the rise of China and other new forces.

Earlier In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy spoke at the UN General Assembly and he announced the US “intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race — to advance together step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved.” He went on to call for a global general and complete disarmament.

Major nuclear disarmament groups met at different times (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Greenpeace and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War). Many large anti-nuclear demonstrations and protests occurred. On June 12, 1982, one million people demonstrated in New York City’s Central Park against nuclear weapons and for an end to the cold war arms race. At that time, it was the largest anti-nuclear protest and the largest political demonstration in American history.

Global Military Situation Today

We need to ask two questions. First, which are the strongest military nations in the world today. Second, which nations are currently spending the largest budgets on military buildup?

The top ten strongest military nations, in order of firepower and army strength, are 1. U.S., 2. Russia, 3. China, 4. India, 5. Japan, 6. South Korea, 7. France, 8. United Kingdom, 9. Turkey, and 10. Germany. The ranking is done by Global Firepower that has examined the defense forces of 137 countries, taking into account manpower, land systems, air power, naval power, resources, logistics, finances and geography covered. Global Firepower measures 50 different statistics about a country — including each country’s military budget, number of aircraft carriers, available manpower and labor force, to produce a Power Index. The index doesn’t take into account nuclear capabilities.

Turning to ranking nations by their current military defense spending (2019), the U.S. is far and away as the biggest spender. The U.S. defense spending is $732 billion which is 38 percent of the total global military spending ($1.29 trillion) in 2019. The U.S. military expenditure amounts to 3.4% of U.S. GDP. The other countries’ budgets are: China ($224 billion), India ($55), Germany ($49), UK ($47.5), Japan ($47), Russia ($44), France ($40), South Korea ($38), and Turkey ($9). All told, if all these countries could agree to sharply cut their military budgets, the money could be redirected to build a better life and better health for all their citizens.

Why the U.S. Must Press for Renewed Disarmament

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. assumed world leadership for defending the freedom of nations to democratically determine their own futures. The U.S. made sure that Japan and Germany would recover and adopt democratic institutions. It became poignantly clear, however, that Russia would pursue a different path, that of convincing or coercing other nations to adopt a communist system of government. The U.S. and its major allies entered a long drawn out Cold War with Russia, running 44 years from 1947 to 1991. On November 9, 1989, German citizens tore down the famous Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany. In 1991, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union lost control and the USSR dissolved in December 1991 with its constituent republics going independent. This left the U.S. as the world’s only superpower.

Subsequently the United States assumed the role of defense for the other nations so that these nations could concentrate on rebuilding their economies. Germany and Japan grew very prosperous, followed by other European nations. International trade grew rapidly, especially in Asia which had the manpower and the lowest incomes, thereby attracting many companies to move their operations to Asian countries. China ran through a chaotic and brutal Cultural Revolution under Mao from 1966–1976. Mao died in September 1976 and Deng Xiaoping took power and he stressed opening China to the outside world. Without rejecting Marxism-Leninism, China looked forward to coming to terms with Capitalism and Deng Xiaoping relentlessly pushed forward China’s economic growth.

China managed to grow its GDP at 10 percent for a number of years. It soon became “the factory of the world,” the main supplier of cheap goods around the world. Thanks to China, consumer prices around the world remained low. China used its resources to rebuild its cities with skyscrapers, to build better roads, ports and railroads, to improve its airlines and airports. China did the most impressive job of reducing the largest number of poverty-stricken people in a relatively short period of time.

In 2012, China’s new leader, Xi Jingling, started an aggressive campaign to help other countries develop their economies. He wanted these countries to adopt the Chinese way and methods to grow as fast as China grew. He developed China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to become a global superpower. BRI’s aim is to route Chinese goods efficiently into the Middle East, Africa, and Europe, making specific country investments along the way. China offers plans and contracts with individual countries to invest resources in their economic development. Much construction involves Chinese labor arriving in these other countries to carry out the work. Thus China not only develops a high-minded image in these countries of helping to fight poverty but also finds a way to use its excess labor by sending this labor abroad.

My concern is that the U.S., which stood as the major superpower and emissary of freedom and democracy, has lost some stature in the eyes of other countries. The Trump presidency, working on the slogan “America First”, and slighting many U.S. allies including Canada, Mexico, the UK, and others, lost some of its image power. The U.S. is seen as a country where Capitalism rewards the few with all the profit and leaves the working class with less-than livable wages. They see that the U.S. primary education system is weak for minority students, its hospital system is twice as expensive as health systems in many European countries, 54 million Americans have experienced food insecurity in 2020/21, including 18 million children, homelessness and drug abuse is rife, and America’s middle class is decreasing and many families cannot afford college education or the high cost of health insurance.

What does the U.S. offer today as a hope and aspiration to its own people? Do the majority of Americans see their country’s infrastructure as improving, or their real wages improving, or their primary education and health system as improving? Or do they see a politically divided country run by two political parties unable to agree on any needed legislation to improve the country’s performance.

What does the U.S. offer today as a hope and aspiration for people in other countries? Yes, we offer the ideas of freedom and democracy. We emphasize the free rights of citizens to assemble, to speak freely, to follow their religion, to freely criticize their politicians, rights that are missing in many countries. But are these rights sufficiently tangible and motivating for people living in poor conditions in Central America, Africa, India, or Asia to feel that their future lies in allying with the U.S. and not with China? Or is China their hero today and their hope for attaining a better life?

Should the United States run its own Belt and Road plan? Should it choose certain countries and help those countries pursue economic development and economic justice? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The U.S. is not in an economic position, given its own domestic problems and limited resources, to help other countries improve their economies. Every so often, U.S. politicians even propose cutting the U.S. foreign aid budget.

The answer is that the U.S. needs a new cause that excites the rest of the world about the U.S. and its plans for helping improve the lives of the citizens of other countries. The new cause is clear to me. It was clear to John Kennedy, our 35th President. He announced at the United Nations the US “intention to challenge the Soviet Union, not to an arms race, but to a peace race — to advance together step by step, stage by stage, until general and complete disarmament has been achieved.” Kennedy called for a global general and complete disarmament. His plan would create machinery to keep the peace as it destroys the machinery of war. It would proceed through stages to find ways to establish verification and control at the United Nations. It would create a steady reduction in force, both nuclear and conventional, using a new United Nations Peace Force.

I recognize the difficulties of the U.S. being the initiator of this new plan for World Peace. As the world’s largest military power and biggest annual spender on military equipment and arms, the U.S. would have to greatly reduce its factories and workforces engaged in military work. It would have to find new opportunities and jobs for all those presently doing military work. Military work takes place in all 50 states and their politicians will cry out against any move to slow down or end military armament build up. It is so ironic that we have to continue to make weapons to prevent war (which is likely to increase the probability of war) while we give up using these funds to improve our living standards and lives.



Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)