William J. Astore on Domination and the US Military

Last week while getting new tires, I came across the latest Air Force recruiting brochure. Its first line: “The Air Force dominates the sky with speed, precision and air power.”

It’s fascinating to me this emphasis on global domination. During the Cold War, the goal was not to dominate but to deter the Soviet Union, China, and similar rivals. Deterrence suggests rough equality – and some reasonable cap to defense spending. Domination, however, suggests something far different. As Michael Klare has noted, it suggests we must “overmatch” potential rivals; we must be capable of obliterating them, not just deterring and defeating them.

Domination makes perfect sense, of course, if your goal is to maximize “defense” spending. If the U.S. only intended to deter a (much weaker) Russia and (a mainly economic power) China, we could probably do that at half the cost we’re paying now. Imagine saving $350 billion a year and applying it to education, health care, infrastructure, and similar places of need in the USA.

But when the operative word is dominate, your budget is almost open-ended. You can always find (or imagine) a weakness somewhere, a place where we must boost spending. A Space Force, perhaps? Not even the sky is a limit to “dominant” defense spending.

This linguistic turn, from deterrence to dominance, doesn’t get enough attention in our media and culture. Those seeking dominance, no matter what they claim, are much more likely to breed war than to find peace.

Of course, the Air Force recruiting brochure I picked up at the auto shop showed no scenes of war: no bombs being dropped, no missiles being launched, no cities turned to rubble, and of course no casualties. Somehow America’s airmen are supposed to dominate the sky in a bloodless manner, or so our slick recruiting brochures suggest.

Not surprisingly, recruiting brochures don’t show the horrific realities of war. But what they do proudly announce is the U.S. military’s goal of total dominance. Never mind the cost, whether to ourselves or others.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

2 thoughts on “William J. Astore on Domination and the US Military”

  1. The Cold War was an era of ‘rough equality’ that arguably prevented nuclear holocaust. In that sense the Cold War was a time of peace – relative peace. None of crises, such as the Cuba Missile Crisis or the Euro missile crisis, ended in conflict. One protagonist was able to back down. Today’s crisis is far more serious and not as many describe: a new Cold War. In this post-Cold War period we are quickly losing the means to prevent scenarios where Mutual Assured Destruction will be resorted to. We will soon face a situation where one protagonist cannot step back from the brink, blindly stumbling into a situation they are unable to de-escalate. All that is left is Deterrence doctrine’s fall-back position – annihilation.
    ‘Dominance’ comes closest to the real motivation behind war, power (manifested as interest). It has been present in every conflict in history, with no exception, and cuts across all apparently unifying principles: family, kin, nation, religion, ideology, politics – everything. We unite with the enemies of our principles, because that is what serves our interest. As a result every civilization/nation eventually gets the war it is trying to avoid.

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