FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Shame of Nations

On April 17, 2012, as millions of Americans were filing their income tax returns, the highly-respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest study of world military spending. In case Americans were wondering where most of their tax money — and the tax money of other nations — went in the previous year, the answer from SIPRI was clear: to war and preparations for war.

World military spending reached a record $1,738 billion in 2011 — an increase of $138 billion over the previous year.  The United States accounted for 41 percent of that, or $711 billion.

Some news reports have emphasized that, from the standpoint of reducing reliance on armed might, this actually represents progress.  After all, the increase in “real” global military spending — that is, expenditures after corrections for inflation and exchange rates — was only 0.3 percent. And this contrasts with substantially larger increases in the preceding thirteen years.

But why are military expenditures continuing to increase — indeed, why aren’t they substantially decreasing — given the governmental austerity measures of recent years?
Amid the economic crisis that began in late 2008 (and which continues to the present day), most governments have been cutting back their spending dramatically on education, health care, housing, parks, and other vital social services. However, there have not been corresponding cuts in their military budgets.

Americans, particularly, might seek to understand why in this context U.S. military spending has not been significantly decreased, instead of being raised by $13 billion — admittedly a “real dollar” decrease of 1.2 percent, but hardly one commensurate with Washington’s wholesale slashing of social spending. Yes, military expenditures by China and Russia increased in 2011.  And in “real” terms, too. But, even so, their military strength hardly rivals that of the United States.  Indeed, the United States spent about five times as much as China (the world’s #2 military power) and ten times as much as Russia (the world’s #3 military power) on its military forces during 2011. Furthermore, when U.S. allies like Britain, France, Germany, and Japan are factored in, it is clear that the vast bulk of world military expenditures are made by the United States and its military allies.

This might account for the fact that the government of China, which accounts for only 8.2 percent of world military spending, believes that increasing its outlay on armaments is reasonable and desirable. Apparently, officials of many nations share that competitive feeling.

Unfortunately, the military rivalry among nations — one that has endured for centuries — results in a great squandering of national resources. Many nations, in fact, devote most of their available income to funding their armed forces and their weaponry. In the United States, an estimated 58 percent of the U.S. government’s discretionary tax dollars go to war and preparations for war. “Almost every country with a military is on an insane path, spending more and more on missiles, aircraft, and guns,” remarked John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus. “These countries should be confronting the real threats of climate change, hunger, disease, and oppression, not wasting taxpayers’ money on their military.”

Of course, defenders of military expenditures reply that military force actually protects people from war. But does it? If so, how does one explain the fact that the major military powers of the past century — the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and China — have been almost constantly at war during that time? What is the explanation for the fact that the United States — today’s military giant — is currently engaged in at least two wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and appears to be on the verge of a third (with Iran)? Perhaps the maintenance of a vast military machine does not prevent war but, instead, encourages it.

In short, huge military establishments can be quite counterproductive. Little wonder that they have been condemned repeatedly by great religious and ethical leaders. Even many government officials have decried war and preparations for war — although usually by nations other than their own.

Thus, the release of the new study by SIPRI should not be a cause for celebration. Rather, it provides an appropriate occasion to contemplate the fact that, this past year, nations spent more money on the military than at any time in human history. Although this situation might still inspire joy in the hearts of government officials, top military officers, and defense contractors, people farther from the levers of military power might well conclude that it’s a hell of a way to run a world.

Lawrence S. Wittner is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press).

 

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
January 21, 2020
Sheldon Richman
Warmonger Cotton Accuses Antiwar Think Tank of Anti-Semitism
John Feffer
Trump Makes Space Great Again
Patrick Cockburn
The US and Iran’s Perpetual Almost-War is Unsustainable – and Will End Badly
James C. Nelson
Another Date That Will Live in Infamy: 10 Years After Citizens United
Robert Fisk
Iran Will be Changed Forever by Admitting Its Great Mistake, Unlike the West Which Ignores Its Own Misdeeds
Dean Baker
Did Shareholders’ Benefit by Paying Boeing’s Fired CEO $62 Million?
Susan Roberts
The Demise of the Labour Party and the Future For UK Socialism
Binoy Kampmark
Janus-Faced on Climate Change: Microsoft’s Carbon Vision
David Levin
The Teamster Revolt Against the Hoffa Era
Victor Grossman
Defender and Spearheads
Russell Mokhiber
BS Public Editor and the Disease of Contempt
Tiffany Muller
Get the Money Out of Politics: 10 Years After Citizens United
Laura Flanders
Iowa is Not the Twitterverse
Graham Peebles
Education: Expanding Purpose
Elliot Sperber
Handball in Brooklyn 
January 20, 2020
Paul Street
Trump Showed Us Who He Was Before He Became President
Eric Mann
Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Ipek S. Burnett
MLK and the Ghost of an Untrue Dream
Mark Harris
Better Living Through Glyphosate? Spray Now, Ask Questions Later
Katie Fite
Owyhee Initiative Wilderness and Public Lands Deal Critique: Ten Years After
Thomas Knapp
A Loophole for the Lawless: “Qualified Immunity” Must Go
REZA FIYOUZAT
Best Enemies Forever: The Iran-U.S. Kabuki Show
Jeff Mackler
Worldwide Furor Sparked by U.S. Assassination of Iran’s General Suleimani
William deBuys
The Humanitarian and Environmental Disaster of Trump’s Border Wall
Binoy Kampmark
A Matter of Quality: Air Pollution, Tennis and Sporting Officialdom
James Haught
GOP Albatross
Jill Richardson
Why Do We Have School Lunch Debt at All?
Robert Koehler
Nuclear Hubris
Patrick T. Hiller
Instead of Real-Time Commentary, Eight Common-Sense Reason for Not Going to War with Iran
Charles Andrews
A Note on Carlos Ghosn and Global Capitalism
Jeffrey St. Clair
Some Trees: Los Angeles
Weekend Edition
January 17, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: No Woman, No Cry
Kathleen Wallace
Hijacking the Struggles of Others, Elizabeth Warren Style
Robert Hunziker
The Rumbling Methane Enigma
Frank Joyce
Will the Constitution Fail Again?
Andrew Levine
Biden Daze
Pete Dolack
Claims that the ‘NAFTA 2’ Agreement is Better are a Macabre Joke
Vijay Prashad
Not an Inch: Indian Students Stand Against the Far Right
Ramzy Baroud
Sealed Off and Forgotten: What You Should Know about Israel’s ‘Firing Zones’ in the West Bank
Norman Solomon
Not Bernie, Us. Not Warren, Us. Their Clash Underscores the Need for Grassroots Wisdom
Ted Rall
America’s Long History of Meddling in Russia
David Rosen
The Irregulators vs. FCC: the Trial Begins
Jennifer Matsui
The Krown
Joseph Natoli
Resolutions and Obstacles/2020
Sarah Anderson
War Profiteering is Real
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail