FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

America’s Runaway Military Spending

The August 9 announcement by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates of cost-containment measures at the Defense Department should not obscure two underlying facts.  First, as he conceded, these proposed economies will not result in cutting the overall Pentagon budget, which is slated for expansion.  And, second, as a Washington Post article reported, “defense officials characterized them as a political preemptive strike to fend off growing sentiment elsewhere in Washington to tackle the federal government’s soaring deficits by making deep cuts in military spending.”

But why should anyone want to cut the U.S. military budget?

One reason is that—with $549 billion requested for basic military expenditures and another $159 billion requested for U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—the record $708 billion military spending called for by the Obama administration for fiscal 2011 will be nearly equivalent to the military spending of all other nations in the world combined. When it comes to military appropriations, the U.S. government already spends about seven times as much as China, thirteen times as much as Russia, and seventy-three times as much as Iran.

Is this really necessary?  During the Cold War, the United States confronted far more dangerous and numerous military adversaries, including the Soviet Union.  And the U.S. government certainly possessed an enormous and devastating military arsenal, as well as the armed forces that used it.  But in those years, U.S. military spending accounted for only 26 percent of the world total.  Today, as U.S. Congressman Barney Frank has observed, “we have fewer enemies and we’re spending more money.”

Where does this vast outlay of U.S. tax dollars—the greatest military appropriations in U.S. history—go?  One place is to overseas U.S. military bases.  According to Chalmers Johnson, a political scientist and former CIA consultant, as much as $250 billion per year is used to maintain some 865 U.S. military facilities in more than forty countries and overseas U.S. territories.

The money also goes to fund vast legions of private military contractors.  A recent Pentagon report estimated that the Defense Department relies on 766,000 contractors at an annual cost of about $155 billion, and this figure does not include private intelligence organizations.  A Washington Post study, which included all categories, estimated that the Defense Department employs 1.2 million private contractors.

Of course, enormously expensive air and naval weapons systems—often accompanied by huge cost over-runs—account for a substantial portion of the Pentagon’s budget.  But exactly who are these high tech, Cold War weapons to be used against?  Certainly they have little value in a world threatened by terrorism.  As Congressman Frank has remarked:  “I don’t think any terrorist has ever been shot by a nuclear submarine.”

Furthermore, when bemoaning budget deficits, Americans should not forget the enormous price the United States has paid for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  According to the highly-respected National Priorities Project, their cost, so far, amounts to $1.06 trillion. (For those readers who are unaccustomed to dealing with a trillion dollar budget, that’s $1,060,000,000,000.)

When calculating the benefits and losses of these kinds of expenditures, we should also include the opportunities forgone through military spending.  How many times have government officials told us that there is not enough money available for health care, for schools, for parks, for the arts, for public broadcasting, for unemployment insurance, for law enforcement, and for maintenance of America’s highway, bridge, and rail infrastructure?

Admittedly, there are other reasons for America’s failure to use its substantial wealth to provide adequate care for its own people.  Some Americans, driven by mean-spiritedness or greed, resent the very idea of sharing with others.  Furthermore, years of tax cuts for the wealthy have diminished public revenues.

Even so, it is hard to deny that there is a heavy price being paid for making military power the nation’s top priority.  With more than half of U.S. government discretionary spending going to feed the Pentagon, we should not be surprised that—in America, at least—it is no longer considered feasible to use public resources to feed the hungry, heal the sick, or house the homeless.

We would do well to recall an observation by one of the great prophets of our time, Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. Lawrence S. Wittner is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany. His latest book is Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement (Stanford University Press).

This essay is distributed by the Oregon Peace Institute.

 

 

WORDS THAT STICK
?

 

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
February 25, 2020
Michael Hudson
The Democrats’ Quandary: In a Struggle Between Oligarchy and Democracy, Something Must Give
Paul Street
The “Liberal” Media’s Propaganda War on Bernie Sanders
Sheldon Richman
The Non-Intervention Principle
Nicholas Levis
The Real Meaning of Red Scare 3.0
John Feffer
Cleaning Up Trump’s Global Mess
David Swanson
How Are We Going to Pay for Saving Trillions of Dollars?
Ralph Nader
Three Major News Stories That Need To Be Exposed
John Eskow
What Will You Do If the Democrats Steal It from Sanders?
Dean Baker
What If Buttigieg Said That He Doesn’t Accept the “Fashionable” View That Climate Change is a Problem?
Jack Rasmus
The Nevada Caucus and the Desperation of Democrat Elites
Howard Lisnoff
The Powerful Are Going After Jane Fonda Again
Binoy Kampmark
Viral Losses: Australian Universities, Coronavirus and Greed
John W. Whitehead
Gun-Toting Cops Endanger Students and Turn Schools into Prisons
Marshall Sahlins
David Brooks, Public Intellectual
February 24, 2020
Stephen Corry
New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind
M. K. Bhadrakumar
How India’s Modi is Playing on Trump’s Ego to His Advantage
Jennifer Matsui
Tycoon Battle-Bots Battle Bernie
Robert Fisk
There’s Little Chance for Change in Lebanon, Except for More Suffering
Rob Wallace
Connecting the Coronavirus to Agriculture
Bill Spence
Burning the Future: the Growing Anger of Young Australians
Eleanor Eagan
As the Primary Race Heats Up, Candidates Forget Principled Campaign Finance Stands
Binoy Kampmark
The Priorities of General Motors: Ditching Holden
George Wuerthner
Trojan Horse Timber Sales on the Bitterroot
Rick Meis
Public Lands “Collaboration” is Lousy Management
David Swanson
Bloomberg Has Spent Enough to Give a Nickel to Every Person Whose Life He’s Ever Damaged
Peter Cohen
What Tomorrow May Bring: Politics of the People
Peter Harrison
Is It as Impossible to Build Jerusalem as It is to Escape Babylon?
Weekend Edition
February 21, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Election Con 2020: Exposing Trump’s Deception on the Opioid Epidemic
Joshua Frank
Bloomberg is a Climate Change Con Man
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Billion Dollar Babies
Paul Street
More Real-Time Reflections from Your Friendly South Loop Marxist
Jonathan Latham
Extensive Chemical Safety Fraud Uncovered at German Testing Laboratory
Ramzy Baroud
‘The Donald Trump I know’: Abbas’ UN Speech and the Breakdown of Palestinian Politics
Martha Rosenberg
A Trump Sentence Commutation Attorneys Generals Liked
Ted Rall
Bernie Should Own the Socialist Label
Louis Proyect
Encountering Malcolm X
Kathleen Wallace
The Debate Question That Really Mattered
Jonathan Cook
UN List of Firms Aiding Israel’s Settlements was Dead on Arrival
George Wuerthner
‘Extremists,’ Not Collaborators, Have Kept Wilderness Whole
Colin Todhunter
Apocalypse Now! Insects, Pesticide and a Public Health Crisis  
Stephen Reyna
A Paradoxical Colonel: He Doesn’t Know What He is Talking About, Because He Knows What He is Talking About.
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A New Solar Power Deal From California
Richard Moser
One Winning Way to Build the Peace Movement and One Losing Way
Laiken Jordahl
Trump’s Wall is Destroying the Environment We Worked to Protect
Walden Bello
Duterte Does the Right Thing for a Change
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail