David Swanson / David Swanson.org
(June 28, 2020) — The past month’s activism has changed a great deal. One thing it’s helped with is brushing aside the tired old argument over whether government should be big or small. In its place we have the much more useful argument over whether government should prioritize force and punishment, or focus on services and assistance.
If we want local and state governments that provide experts in de-escalating conflict, professionals to assist those with drug addictions or mental illness, and skilled experts at handling traffic or responding to various sorts of emergencies, the funding is easily and logically found. It’s sitting in the oversized budgets for armed policing and incarceration.
At the level of the federal government, an even bigger opportunity exists to move money from institutionalized deadly force to all variety of human and environmental needs. While police and prisons are a small percentage of local and state spending, the US government is expected to spend, in its discretionary budget in 2021, $740 billion on the military and $660 billion on absolutely everything else: environmental protections, energy, education, transportation, diplomacy, housing, agriculture, science, disease pandemics, parks, foreign (non-weapons) aid, etc.
No other nation spends even half what the United States does on militarism. Russia spends less than 9 percent and Iran a bit over 1 percent (comparing 2019 budgets). China’s military budget is roughly on the scale of US police and prison spending — nothing like US military spending.
US military spending has soared during the past 20 years, and the wars it has generated have proved counter-productive and extremely difficult to end. This focus seems to have done very little to protect anyone from COVID-19, from environmental disaster, from the risk of nuclear disaster, from unsafe workplaces, from all the suffering inflicted by poverty, or from the lack of comprehensive healthcare.
In both houses of Congress right now amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act are gathering support that would reduce next year’s $740 billion budget for militarism by 10 percent for the purpose of redirecting those funds to wiser purposes. Moving $74 billion would result in a budget of $666 billion for militarism and $734 billion for everything else.
Where could the money come from, specifically? Well, the Pentagon is the one department that has never passed an audit, but we do have some idea of where some of the money goes. For example, simply ending the war on Afghanistan that candidate Donald Trump promised to end four years ago would save a large percentage of that $74 billion.
Or you could save almost $69 billion by eliminating the off-the-books slush fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account (because the word “wars” didn’t test as well in focus groups).
There’s $150 billion per year in overseas bases, many of them bitterly resented, some of them propping up brutal dictatorships. For that matter there’s the military training and funding of oppressive foreign militaries by the US government. There’s also such out-of-control weapons buying that unwanted weapons are unloaded onto local police departments.
Where could the money go? It could have a major impact on the United States or the world. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2016, it would take $69.4 billion per year to lift all US families with children up to the poverty line. According to the United Nations, $30 billion per year could end starvation on earth, and about $11 billion could provide the world, including the United States, with clean drinking water.
Does knowing those figures, even if they’re slightly or wildly off, throw any doubt on the idea that spending $740 billion on weapons and troops is a security measure? Some 95% of suicide terrorist attacks are directed against foreign military occupations, while 0% are motivated by anger over the provision of food or clean water. Are there perhaps things a country can do to protect itself that don’t involve weapons?
Moving money from militarism to other investments can be economically beneficial, and certainly all necessary steps to assist people in the transition would cost a small fraction of the money involved.
David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of WorldBeyondWar.org and campaign coordinator for RootsAction.org. Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at DavidSwanson.org and WarIsACrime.org. He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the US Peace Memorial Foundation. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook,
Finally Congress Might Move the Money . . . If We Act
We haven’t seen this sort of thing in Washington, D.C., since the days of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, with support from Congresswomen Pramila Jayapal and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and a growing list of Congress Members, has introduced a resolution to move $350 billion per year out of militarism and into useful things.
On a smaller scale, but with the potential for a more immediate result, a growing list of both Senators and Representatives have created, in both Houses, amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act to move $74 billion a year from militarism to human needs.
We urgently need to move all of Congress in this direction. Click here to email your Representative and Senators. Then please forward this email to everyone you can!
The US government is expected to spend, in its discretionary budget in 2021, $740 billion on the military and $660 billion on absolutely everything else: environmental protections, energy, education, transportation, diplomacy, housing, agriculture, science, disease pandemics, parks, foreign (non-weapons) aid, etc., etc.
Moving $74 billion would result in $666 billion on militarism and $734 billion on everything else.
Moving $350 billion would result in $390 billion on militarism and $1,010 billion on everything else.
Where would the money come from? According to Rep. Lee’s resolution:
(1) eliminating the Overseas Contingency Operations account and saving $68,800,000,000;
(2) closing 60 percent of foreign bases and saving $90,000,000,000;
(3) ending wars and war funding and saving $66,000,000,000;
(4) cutting unnecessary weapons that are obsolete, excessive, and dangerous and saving $57,900,000,000;
(5) cutting military overhead by 15 percent and saving $38,000,000,000;
(6) cutting private service contracting by 15 percent and saving $26,000,000,000;
(7) eliminating the proposal for the Space Force and saving $2,600,000,000;
(8) ending use-it-or-lose-it contract spending and saving $18,000,000,000;
(9) freezing operations and maintenance budget levels and saving $6,000,000,000; and
(10) reducing United States presence in Afghanistan by half and saving $23,150,000,000.
Where Would the Money Go?
The priorities of the US government have been wildly out of touch with both morality and public opinion for decades, and have been moving in the wrong direction even as awareness of the crises facing us has inched upward. It would cost about $30 billion per year, according to UN figures, to end starvation on earth, and about $11 billion to provide the world with clean drinking water.
Less than $70 billion per year would wipe out poverty in the United States. Spent wisely, $350 billion could transform the United States and the world, and certainly save even more lives than are spared by taking it away from the military.
Whatever funding is needed to aid anyone in the transition from military to non-military employment will be a small fraction of the whole.
As your constituent, I urge you to immediately and strongly support the House Resolution introduced by Congresswoman Barbara Lee called “Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives regarding wasteful Pentagon spending and supporting cuts to the bloated defense budget,” which would support moving $350 billion out of militarism and into human needs. Both the House and the Senate need to act on this.
In addition, there are House and Senate amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act to move $74 billion from militarism to human needs. I urge you in the strongest terms to immediately support that amendment, to speak out for it publicly, and to encourage your colleagues to take this positive step in the right direction.
Click here to email Congress now!