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Americans believe in big. We have to have big cars, big houses, big burgers and super sized drinks. Bigger is better. This belief drives national defense spending as well. But is bigger always better? When do we have enough? The April tax filing season is a good time to ask questions about our spending priorities.
Intellectually we know bigger is not better. Super size fries are not good for us. The mac-mansion increases the property taxes but not necessarily happiness. If we could think more rationally about defense we might find that super sizing does not make us safer.
The U.S. military is the largest and most powerful in the world. It has been since WWII. We spend more on defense than the next eight top spenders combined. We have military bases in 140 other countries. More than any empire ever. We have 10 super sized nuclear aircraft carriers (19 total including helicopter carriers). China and Russia have one each. With the exception of Russia having more tanks, The U.S. far exceeds every other nation in ships, planes and weapons. Plus the U.S. arsenal is the most technologically advanced.
Military spending consumes about 55% of the federal “discretionary” budget. This does not include all “national security” related spending. It only includes the Department of Defense, nuclear weapons, and the Overseas Contingency Fund (war funding). Some analysts calculate total national security spending at 85% of the budget.
Why are we so paranoid? No other country has the military, logistical, or economic capacity to invade the U.S. We are the third largest nation by both population and land area. We have not been invaded since 1812. When do we have enough defense? What does it take to be “secure?” At what point do we stop feeding the military industrial monster?
All the other important functions of government are left with 15% of our resources. The crumbs trickle down to fund police, courts, food safety, water and sewage systems, public health, medical research, roads, work place safety, and all the other things necessary for a modern society. When even the court system, the backbone of conservative “law-and-order,” languish, it is time to re-assess our priorities.
Defense is an important function of government. And, yes, there are terrorists who do bad things around the world. But you don’t fight terrorist cells with nuclear weapons or jet fighters. Why are we spending $1 trillion over the next 30 years on nuclear weapons? International cooperation is essential. But diplomacy and international relations get 3% while we are spending $1.5 trillion on the new F-35 fighter plane. A plane that doesn’t perform as well as our current, best in the world, aircraft. Maybe we need to think about what we are doing and not just throw money at the military monster.
We could also stop messing around in 140 other countries. Most people don’t realize the degree to which our aggressive, militarized foreign policy has helped make us targets for terrorism. Perhaps unqualified support for Israel, the invasion of Afghanistan, over 24 years of bombing Iraq, and decades of support for repressive dictatorial regimes create the impression we hate Islam.
Even conservative advocates for a strong military object to the current level of military spending and on what it is being spent. The Project on Government Oversight says,
“But is there such a thing as too much defense spending? Is it possible that, counter-intuitively, more defense dollars could make us less safe? Yes. The fact is, that is exactly what’s happening. There are tens of billions of defense dollars being wasted every year. That’s not just bad for our checkbook. It’s bad for our military effectiveness.”
“More Defense Dollars Don’t Guarantee a Better Military, The truth about military spending.” By: Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis (U.S. Army, Ret.) | March 1, 2016 HYPERLINK “http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/defense-budget/2016/more-defense-dollars-dont.html”http://www.pogo.org/straus/issues/defense-budget/2016/more-defense-dollars-dont.html
No matter how you spin the numbers, we spend too much on defense. It is time to rethink our priorities. We need to remember the words of Martin Luther King,
“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”