Peace Action – 2009-03-11 00:58:00
The Elephant Sitting on the Economy
While the United States economy falters, a variety of ideas to secure workers and businesses have been put forward. Yet, the issue of the U.S. military, specifically missile defense spending, has received very little attention as a government sector ripe for spending reform.
This is no surprise; defense spending has often been seen as a sacred cow in U.S. politics. Weapons lobbyists spend heavily to influence congress people, falsely claiming their industry is the only industry equipped to provide good high tech jobs. War hawks continuously invoke fear of a threatening menace on the horizon that our country is never strong enough to defend against. Where does it stop?
Currently, U.S. military spending constitutes 48% of the world’s total, more than the next 45 countries combined. Domestically, not including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, military spending requests for 2009 constitute 54% of the discretionary budget that is voted on by Congress. When including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, U.S. military spending jumps to 57% of the discretionary budget.
In the past eight years, U.S. military spending has more than doubled from $333 billion to a staggering $700 billion when the cost of war is added; and that’s not including nuclear weapons. Much of this spending is unnecessary and does not provide real security, $60 billion alone goes to obsolete Cold War weapons spending and over $100 billion is devoted to maintaining more than 700 foreign military bases world-wide.
Missile defense may be the most egregious ill-spending of all the non-nuclear weapons systems. Ostensibly, missile defense is said to provide a shield against a nuclear Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) attack from the countries that have them, namely Russia. But, there are serious problems with this security strategy, Russia and others see missile defense as a part of a U.S. first-strike nuclear capability.
Russia is emerging from the Cold War as a powerful and influential country. Alone, Russian control of natural gas flows to the whole of Europe should be enough of a motivation for the U.S. to maintain good diplomatic relations. Russia has the potential to be a great ally or to become a great enemy. Setting up missile defense forces on Russia’s southern border is a provocative measure that has cost the American tax payer handsomely.
According to the Pentagon, since its inception in 1983, missile defense has cost $150 billion. Twenty years after proponents of the system could no longer justify its purpose by the Cold War, missile defense still does not work. It is the single most expensive weapons program, (after nuclear weapons) and has never yielded a significant result. It is the military equivalent of throwing money, in tens of billions of dollars, down the toilet.
The program provides a case study in political corruption. A story by the New York Times, “Insider’s Projects Drained Missile-Defense Millions” revealed that missile defense spending has been driven by insider lobbying with the sole intention of making money, at times even at odds with actual Department of Defense procurement objectives.
In 2007, Mike Cantrell and Doug Ennis, two mid-level Department of Defense engineers working on missile defense, were convicted of corruption linked to $1.6 million in kickbacks “Thanks to important allies in Congress, he (sic) extracted nearly $350 million for projects the Pentagon did not want; wasting taxpayer money on what would become dead-end ventures….”
Eliminating obsolete cold war weapons systems, ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and scaling back on U.S. overseas military bases could trim unnecessary defense spending by over 25% and shift that money to investments in real security measures such as renewable domestic energy, diplomacy, and international aid. Even with a 25% reduction we’d still have, by far, the largest military in the world – but it’s a start.
Budget Priorities and Energy Security
No Blood for Oil: a common refrain in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. Our foreign policy throughout the Middle East is focused on securing the resources to feed our national dependence on oil. The U.S. can no longer justify our over-consumption of fossil fuels – the cost is too high.
In order to correct our energy policies we must reform our budget priorities. In doing so, we can fundamentally shift our foreign policy to make us more secure.
The military is the single greatest investment the U.S. has made in energy security. A recent report by the National Priorities Project, published January 2009, found that up to 30% of United States military spending goes towards securing energy supplies around the world.
In 2009, the U.S. will spend an estimated $100 billion securing energy access through the military and only $1.26 billion in renewable energy. Rather than creating sustainable alternatives the U.S. government has been chasing an outdated technology around the globe.
The most recent occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq are part of a larger U.S. foreign policy strategy in place since 1980. The Carter Doctrine, espoused and later disparaged by former President Jimmy Cater, claimed, “Current trends indicate an increasing reliance on petroleum products from areas of instability in the coming years, not reduced reliance.
The United States will continue to foster access to and flow of energy resources vital to the world economy.” He went on to articulate how far the U.S. would go to protect our interests in these ‘areas of instability’: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault…such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
The Department of Defense is the largest oil consuming government body in the United States and the world. If the Pentagon were a nation ranked for its total oil consumption it would come in 38th, just behind Greece.
According to the U.S. Defense Energy Support Center Fact Book 2004 (the latest available figure), in Fiscal Year 2004, the U.S. military fuel consumption increased to 144 million barrels. That year the DOD spent approximately $8.2 billion directly on energy, seven times more than the United States spent on energy efficiency.
In 2003, the Pentagon raised the alarm with a report detailing the security consequences of climate change fueled conflict. The report detailed: food and water shortages leading to riots; land loss resulting in territory wars; and the startling potential for nuclear war as fossil fuels become scarcer.
The military, defense contractors, and many politicians have benefited exponentially from our reliance on fossil fuels through lucrative contracts and bottomless budgets. It is becoming clear, however, that the world cannot continue along this pace.
We cannot continue to increase military spending to secure energy supplies while under-funding renewable energy and energy efficiency. This only serves to create a loop in which the very practices and policies meant to address energy issues make them worse.
Peace Action is working through several coalitions to address the connection between energy security, budget priorities, and defense spending. As part of The Pacific Freeze campaign, a coalition of NGOs targeting to the nations involved in the six party talks to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, Peace Action advocated for reductions in military spending and a global green energy fund.
Our ongoing collaboration with the No War No Warming coalition continues to call attention to the links between our global military hegemony and energy security through on-the-ground action and public education.
In April, Peace Action will collaborate with United for Peace and Justice to mobilize “Beyond War, A New Economy Is Possible: Yes we Can!” an action calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and a radical change in national priorities to shift military spending to clean energy spending and domestic needs.
Swords or Ploughshares:
Empowering Smart Decisions in Difficult Times
After World War Two there was a dramatic shift in our national economy. That war was, and continues to be, trumpeted as the way out of the Great Depression. Since then our country has maintained an ever increasing level of military spending as a means of ‘stimulating our economy.’ After a generation of considering illogical and unnecessary military spending essential to our economic growth, it is no wonder in 2009 the Pentagon budget dwarfs the budgets of many small industrialized countries.
Seymour Melman, an economist, writer, peace activist, and gadfly of the military-industrial complex was the first to question the legitimacy of this economic model. His book The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism set the stage for the first of many Peace Action campaigns to reduce the military budget.
Under the leadership of then Peace Action board co-chair and International Association of Machinists leader William Winpisinger, Peace Action mounted a campaign to support Congressman Ted Weiss’ “economic conversion” legislation. The basic premise was: if we can ramp up our economy by spending money for war during war-time, then we can do the same during peace-time by investing in domestic and human needs.
After suffering under the neo-conservative yoke of the Reaganites many at Peace Action were hopeful when President William Clinton promised to reduce the military budget. We launched our Peace Economy Campaign to reinvest money wasted on Star Wars and Cold War weapons into rebuilding our economy from the bottom-up. We endorsed the Congressional Black Caucuses’ Alternative Budget and waited for Clinton to present his budget.
Clinton did cut the budget, but not in a way that promoted a peace economy. He cut military personnel and none of the Reagan administration weapons. He fully funded Star Wars and refused to reduce our nuclear arsenal. The types of cuts he made and did not make set our peace economy campaign back.
Conservatives pointed to it as naiveté and progressives were compelled to condemn it for being ineffective. In reality, the cuts Clinton made to the personnel in the military were just reinvested into the Pentagon and its weapons systems.
President Obama has made many promises about the military budget. He has said he wants to “stop waste and cost overruns”; he wants to phase down our occupation in Iraq and call it a reduction in military spending. Are these smart cuts? They may reduce the balance of the Pentagon budget; but, they do nothing to promote a peace economy. Even eliminating all the costs associated with our occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan the U.S. military budget is still larger than that of all other nations combined.
Peace Action is ramping up a campaign to make sure that the Obama Administration does not go the way of its Republican and Democratic predecessors. Our second Peace Economy Campaign will officially kick off in April with protests in cities and towns all over the country. We’ll use the 6th anniversary of the Iraq occupation to draw attention to the wasteful spending and Tax Day actions to ask the people of this country, “where do you want your tax dollars spent.”
In the long term, our goal is to reduce the military budget by making smart cuts in our military spending and greatly decreasing our military presence around the world. To this end we co-sponsored the Security Without Empire Conference on Military Bases last week. In the coming months our political team will make lobby visits around the nuclear non-proliferation treaty talks and the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
Peace Action will continue to oppose any U.S. military occupation both on moral and fiscal grounds. This summer we’ll take that message to millions of American homes; knocking on doors with our message. We believe that change comes from people, not presidents. Together, we can deliver change to the country one dollar at a time.
MORE Fuzzy Math?
(March 2009) — Will Obama make significant cuts to the military budget? The answer to that question depends on what news source you rely on. If you go the Wall Street Journal you might be concerned that (a) “4% funding increase for the Pentagon trails the 6.7% overall rise in the 2010 budget — and defense received almost nothing extra in the recent stimulus bill.”
John Feffer, however, takes a different stance on the same statistic writing in Foreign Policy in Focus. “Today, the advocates of military Keynesianism are pushing back against the Obama stimulus package — which already includes over $10 billion for the Pentagon and $1 billion for nuclear programs at the Department of Energy — with a proposal to maintain U.S. military spending at 4% of GDP.”
The issue becomes more complicated when we break the spending down further. President Obama made it clear during his campaign for the Presidency that the Pentagon was not immune to the economic crisis; alluding that major cuts to the military budget were in the works. At the same time he committed to increasing the personnel size of the Army and Marines; continuing the U.S. military presence in Iraq with residual combat forces; and, increasing the military presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The recent budget released by the Obama administration reflects this duality. The percentage of the Federal budget appropriated to the Pentagon for fiscal year 2009, not including supplemental monies for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was $655 billion. In fiscal year 2010 Obama has asked for a total of $664 billion; including funding for Iraq and Afghanistan ($130 billion requested as a supplemental).
Compared to the (under-) estimated $700 billion President Bush spent on the Pentagon, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it looks like President Obama is cutting the military budget by $36 billion. President Obama estimates that the cuts will be made up with his ‘withdrawal’ from Iraq and ‘smart cuts’; but, like his predecessor, he may be grossly underestimating the total cost of the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
He also is not cutting the military funding through nuclear weapons programs (Department of Energy) and non-Defense Department military costs. According to Travis Sharp at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, these costs totaled around $23 billion for FY 2009.
What is clear to President Obama, the political pundits, and the American people is that our country cannot sustain uncontrolled federal spending during the global recession. Choices and cuts must be made. Obama has made a clear choice to fund domestic projects to stimulate our economy and provide basic human needs for Americans; but he has yet to sever the American relationship with the military-industrial complex. Soon reality will set in: President Obama will have to make a choice between swords and ploughshares.