The Fiscal-Military-Corporate State We Cannot Sustain

Painting shells in a shell filling factory – Public Domain

With saber rattling from the U.S. General Staff, Washington, D.C. is awash anew with schemes for the next arms race.

A parade of weapons manufacturers is plying members of Congress with arguments for new weapons technologies and dollars for the next election cycle. Leading the way: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon Technologies.

The top 20 Defense contractors contributed $47 million to federal candidates in 2020.  Lobbying efforts of defense contractors totaled more than $87 million in 2021.

The power of persuasion of U.S. defense contractors  is evident and itemized  in the 2021-22 Defense Authorization Act  appropriating  $767 billion for the DOD budget.

Many of these companies want a role in building a new fleet of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM’s) and/or enhanced missile defense systems, whose benefits to “strategic security” have been called into question by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and arms control experts.

The U.S. outspends the military budgets of the next ten nations combined. The U.S. defense budget is triple the defense budget of China. Including ancillary defense appropriations in other departments such as the Department of Energy (nuclear weapons), Homeland Security, the Veterans Administration and service on DOD debt, the total U.S. defense expenditures total nearly $1.2 trillion per year.

Ties between the government and defense contractors are foundational. For example, both Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin III and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken share ties to defense contractors and lobbying firms.

Austin served on Raytheon’s Board of Directors for four years after his military service, earning $2 million in compensation. Both Blinken and Austin consulted with Pine Island Capital Partners which leverages access to government officials and mid-capitalized defense contractors. Can they lead an unbiased review of strategies nuclear, military, and diplomatic?

With the U.S. General Accounting Office warning the national debt is spinning out of control (in large measure due to the massive DOD expenditures), it is illustrative that the DOD has never passed a federal audit.

Nearly one half of GAO’s List of High Risk federal programs relate to DOD programs. Programs of “high risk” are “vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement, or in need of transformation”.  What the GAO calls the growing U.S. Government’s Environmental Liability  largely  concerns the environmental clean-up of DOD and Department of Energy sites related to nuclear weapons programs beginning with The Manhattan Project in the 1940s.

One DOD office, The Missile Defense Agency, has made the GAO’s High Risk List for the past decade. Is it ironic that the MDA passed no rigorous tests of its weapons systems or cyber security last year and yet appears to be instigating a world-wide arms race? The MDA grew out of the Reagan Administrations Stategic Defense Initiative, costing $200 billion, defied the laws of physics and accomplished absolutely nothing

Further irony can be found in the GAO’s warning that without substantial deficit reductions, the interest payments on the U.S. debt will exceed the DOD’s own budget within a decade. And while China’s doubling of its nuclear arsenal from 200 to 400 nuclear war heads (the U.S. has 5,550) increases the threat to the U.S. homeland, China’s acquisition of U.S. Treasury Securities totaling $1.2 trillion “is the United States’ greatest financial exposure”.

Can the U.S. realize its defense ambitions and sustain the means to carry them out while maintaining  the economic base of its power? Historian Paul Kennedy raised those questions almost three decades ago. They are still relevant now and require answers.

For months lawmakers bitterly debated the fiscal risk posed by the $1.75 trillion Infrastructure Bill which finally passed with bi-partisan majorities in the House and Senate. Yet little worry about the ballooning national debt slowed the 2021 Defense Authorization Act—which will shell out close to $1 trillion each year over the next decade. That’s 59 per cent of U.S. discretionary spending.

Even more bruising rhetoric has embroiled Biden’s Build Back Better plan or “human infrastructure plan” which if passed would invest in child care and health care for older Americans, expand the Child Tax Credit, fund universal Pre-school for three- and four-year-old children, make significant down payments for clean energy, modernize the electrical grid, aggressively respond to Climate Change, reduce prescription costs and drop health care premiums for 9 million Americans.

Rating the value of infrastructure projects may be an art as much as a science. One helpful metric may be the value of what is distributed or stored. The value of a bridge is the commerce that crosses it, the value of a school is the knowledge shared. “Infrastructure is the most efficient mechanism through which society distributes value”, wrote Efoja Ojomo for The Christensen Institute.

When the United States appropriates ten times its resources to the military budget compared to its infrastructure budget, it is fair to question how much value is distributed or stored in the weapons and delivery systems and lethal innovations proposed by the Pentagon every year?

How much distributed value did our citizens receive from the trillions of dollars our military and political leaders squandered in Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? Nuclear weapons may be stored, but they can never be used. Were they to be used in conflict the world might well come to an end.

For that amount of money, we could have funded Build Back Best infrastructure projects for decades. Instead, we have been left with some of the worst infrastructure in the industrialized world, not to mention millions of people killed in wars of our choosing.

In categories other than defense the U.S. lags further behind other developed countries, according to The Social Progress Index, declining to twenty eighth on a list of metrics of wellbeing.

What is in the best interest  of our national security may not be in the best interest of the defense industry” said  Mandy Smithberger  testifying  before the House Armed Services Committee in July 2021. Smithberger  provided numerous examples of the Pentagon’s unaudited and unwarranted spending: “In a single year, projected spending on nuclear weapon activities increased by 29%, or $113 billion.”

What is the value of nuclear weapons costing $113 billion compared to that of universal Pre-K for 5 million three- and four-year-old American children ($200 billion)?

These are fair and timely questions to ask Congressional leaders such as Adam Smith (D-Washington), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee. Though Smith has long warned against profligate Pentagon spending, his House Armed Services Committee increased by $40 billion the defense budget submitted by the Trump Administration.

The upcoming Nuclear Posture Review, to be released in January, gives the Administration an opportunity to make budget cuts and reduce the dependency on nuclear weapons in international affairs.

While the review will neither bring back the trillions of dollars already wasted on the nuclear arsenal, it will define the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. international strategy for the next four or five years. The NPR could even adopt the Reagan-Gorbachev dictum “A nuclear war cannot be won, and must never be fought” a its core principle.

A proposal to fund a new nuclear arms race would both risk a military catastrophe and strip away funds that could be used to address climate change and human needs. We cannot afford to spend $1 trillion annually on “defense” that could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe and we cannot afford not to invest $2 trillion over ten years on our jobs, family and climate infrastructure plans.