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Data from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, compiled by Zenhaus.
“If the Department of Defense can’t figure out a way to defend the United States on a budget of more than half a trillion dollars a year, then our problems are much bigger than anything that can be cured by a few more ships and planes.” Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates
Sec. Gates was a conservative Republican appointed by President G.W. Bush. He was speaking in 2006 when the budget for the Department of Defense was considerably less than today. But his statement is still valid.
The American people have been manipulated and deceived into paying way too much for “defense” with little to show for it.
There are many, easy ways to reduce the excessive military budget while providing more than adequate defense for our nation. Our country, and the rest of the world, could be much more peaceful and secure if our government – who Martin Luther King called “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” – had less military capacity. But our military and political leadership has no intention of “figuring out ways” to spend less.
Every year the amount of military spending increases regardless of the world situation. President Biden's discretionary budget request for next year (FY 2024) is for $886 billion ($842 billion for the Pentagon) in defense spending. This is larger, adjusted for inflation, than any year since World War II. In comparison the broad category of law enforcement (including courts, prisons, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice) is $225 billion. The proposed amount for all discretionary “social programs” is $584 billion.
Discretionary Pentagon spending is not the total cost of our militarism. Spending on “national security” occurs in other departments in both the discretionary and mandatory budgets. The Veterans Administration, which pays for the war-related cost of medical care received $304 billion in 2023 and the 2024 proposal is for $325 billion. Total “defense” spending, including war-related interest on the national debt, is more than a trillion dollars every year.
This is what Martin Luther King was talking about when he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
President Dwight Eisenhower said it bluntly, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”
This sacrifice of our well being and our children's future is bi-partisan. Despite the Pentagon being the largest source of waste, unaccountable spending, blatant graft, and contributor to the deficit, there is virtually no opposition to the annual increases in “defense” spending.
Why is it so hard to rein in this wasteful spending and set better priorities for our nation? Follow the money.
William Astore is a retired USAF Lt. Colonel and widely published commentator on military and foreign policy issues. He asks, “Why, then, does each year’s [defense authorization] rise ever higher into the troposphere, drifting on the wind and poisoning our culture with militarism? Because, to state the obvious, Congress would rather engage in pork-barrel spending than exercise the slightest real oversight when it comes to the national security state. It has...been essentially captured by the military-industrial complex...”
Mr. Astore asks, “Why is America’s military, allegedly funded for “defense,” configured instead for force projection and global strikes of every sort?” Why are Navy aircraft carrier strike groups patrolling the South China Sea? Why are Air Force B-52 strategic bombers still flying provocatively near the borders of Russia? Why are U.S special forces in some 70 countries all over the world? We don't need 800 military bases in 80 countries for defense.
Nuclear weapons, aircraft carriers and a globe spanning air force are not defensive weapons. They are intended to be used offensively. He says if we restructured the military to focus on “defense,” instead of offensive global dominance, we could cut the defense spending by 50 percent.
The naysayers claim the excessive spending is necessary because “the best defense is a good offense.” Astore rejects this argument. He says that “after decades of lost wars in distant lands” this analogy only shows the “bankruptcy...of American strategic thinking.”
What is the alternative? As I have written in the past, we need a new foreign policy that wages peace and projects cooperation instead of trying to dominate and control the world. We need to re-think what national security means and align it with our democratic values.
Win Without War says “we must re-conceptualize national security to be based on “human security...American security is not divisible nor distinct from the security of peoples all over the world...[we should] strengthen our true security needs by cutting the Pentagon’s budget by $200-$350 billion per year...and doubling the State Department’s budget.”
World Beyond War advocates for “collective security.” They say national security based on military power has failed to prevent war. No nation is really secure until all nations, large and small, are secure from threats and invasions. Their comprehensive plan, called The Alternative Global Security System, proposes
1) demilitarizing security,
2) managing conflicts without violence, and
3) creating a culture of peace.
David Swanson, Executive Director of World Beyond War, suggests the U.S would accomplish more by diverting military spending to humanitarian aid. He points to international polls that indicate the U.S. is the most feared country and is considered the biggest threat to world peace. If we were seen as the supporter of international law, the biggest provider of positive assistance, and facilitator of conflict resolution, America would be “the most beloved nation in the world.“ Worries about terrorist attacks on America would become “laughable.” A
s a nation we have choices. We can continue wasting our resources on endless wars spreading violence and chaos across the world. Or we can insist on rational defense spending and polices that create a more peaceful world.
James Madison said, “War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes..”