Spend Less on War, Spend More on Improving Society

August 28th, 2020 - by Robert Moore and William D. Hartun / The Star-Ledger

Spend Less on Weapons, More on ’Programs of Social Uplift’ 

Robert Moore and William D. Hartun / The Star-Ledger

(August 13, 2020) — As the House and Senate consider the Pentagon budget this year and in the years to come, they should act to reduce the department’s bloated budget and shift funding to what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. described as “programs of social uplift.” New Jersey’s congressional delegation will have an important say in this ongoing debate.

Proposed spending on the Department of Defense comes in at the massive sum of $740 billion this year. That’s more than the levels spent by the next 10 nations in the world combined and higher than expenditures at the peak of the Korean and Vietnam wars.

These huge expenditures represent more than half of the federal government’s discretionary budget, squeezing out federal spending on virtually everything it does other than funding for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Discretionary outlays cover investments in housing, education, transportation, job training, the environment, energy development, scientific research, and more.

The COVID-19 pandemic and longstanding demands to address racial and economic inequality cry out for a new approach to protecting Americans who rely less on guns, bombs and aircraft carriers and more on public health and community development initiatives.

Late last month, as a result of initiatives spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Mark Pocan (D-WI), Congress had a chance to weigh in on the question of whether to shift funds from the Pentagon to meet other urgent needs. They promoted measures in both houses of Congress to reduce the Pentagon’s top line by 10%, without reducing funding for military personnel or defense health programs. 

Adopting this approach would have provided a good down payment on the new approach to security that is sorely needed in this new era, while freeing up urgently needed funds for public health, jobs, education and other essential services in the communities that need them most. Unfortunately, both amendments were defeated, but they received unprecedented support that will set the stage for similar measures next year.

Within the New Jersey delegation, Sen. Cory Booker and Representatives Frank Pallone, Donald Payne and Bonnie Watson Coleman voted in favor of the 10% cut.

There is no lack of programs to cut to reach the goal of a 10% reduction in the Pentagon budget. First and foremost, Congress should roll back the Pentagon’s plans to build a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, submarines, and warheads at a potential cost of over $2 trillion over the next three decades.

Current costs for the nuclear enterprise are running at almost $50 billion per year. These expenditures are both dangerous and unnecessary. The United States possesses thousands of nuclear weapons when experts have suggested that a few hundred would be more than enough to dissuade any nation from attacking the United States. The ultimate goal should be to eliminate these world-threatening weapons altogether.

Of particular concern are land-based, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which former Secretary of Defense William Perry has described as some of the most dangerous weapons in the world because the president would only have a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them in a crisis, greatly increasing the chance of an accidental nuclear war. The Pentagon wants to triple spending on these risky systems in this year’s proposed budget.

The F-35 combat aircraft is another system ripe for reductions. Analyses by the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight have shown that the F-35 may never be fully ready for combat, due to a raft of performance and cost issues.

Last but not least is the Pentagon’s massive bureaucracy. A study by the Defense Business Board has indicated that the department could save $25 billion per year just by eliminating excess bureaucracy. The Department of Defense employs over 600,000 private contractors, many of whom do jobs that are redundant, and can be done by government employees for less money.

The debates of this year and next could be critical turning points in how we conceive of our priorities and how we define safety and security. The New Jersey delegation has a critical role to play in these discussions. It’s time to redefine security and focus on the real threats to our lives and livelihoods.

Rev. Robert Moore is the Executive Director of the New Jersey-based Coalition for Peace Action. 

William D. Hartung is the Director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.