Cut the Military Budget in Half

With the House of Representatives poised to slash federal spending to reduce the deficit, Nebraskans for Peace held a Valentine’s Day news conference at the State Capitol to spot-light the first place Congress should start cutting: America’s bloated military budget. The following four statements delivered at the news conference detail the mix of flawed thinking, misplaced priorities and pork barrel spending that is needlessly driving our government to the brink of bankruptcy and threatening to gut its role as an instrument of justice.

Why Isn’t Military Spending on the Chopping Block?

by Hendrik Van den Berg
UNL Professor of Economics

On Monday, February 14, President Obama delivered his budget proposal to Congress. For weeks now we have listened to reactions from politicians, pundits, and the press. We hear that spending decisions are constrained by projections of large budget deficits.

We are told that we all have to accept cuts in our favorite programs. Many commentators tell us that even entitlements such as Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare will have to be scaled back. We must share the burden. But almost always missing from the interview, comments or speech is the suggestion that we can cut military spending and the myriad other national security expenditures.

With the projected 2011 budget deficit at about $1.5 trillion, how can we just ignore 30 percent of the overall budget? Just look at what we spend for national defense and security:

  1. The Department of Defense budget, plus the special appropriations for our wars of choice in Iraq, Afghanistan Pakistan, etc. sum to $750 billion.
  2. The CIA, NSA, and other parts of the Intelligence Community cost more than $80 billion officially, probably more in fact. Remember, it is the CIA that flies the drones that bomb unknown people in villages in foreign lands and supports autocratic regimes like that of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator that the people of Egypt so courageously forced out of office last week.
  3. Veterans Affairs costs $100 billion per year. No, I am not proposing cutting off veterans, but it should be obvious that expenditures on our veterans are directly related to defense expenditures. If we start fewer wars, we will have fewer injured and disabled veterans to care for.
  4. The Department of Energy’s involvement in the nuclear program adds another $20 billion or more, NASA’s military activities cost perhaps $10 billion, and the State Department’s role in national defense (some significant proportion of the more than total $50 billion in international programs) add further to the costs.
  5. Finally, there is the interest cost on the Federal Debt accounted for by the share of defense and security expenditures in the total budget—nearly $200 billion per year even if interest rates remain as low as they are now.

In total, we end up around $1.2 trillion per year in total costs for military operations, special operations, contractor operations, surveillance, military aid to foreign dictators, etc. That is 7 percent of GDP, and 30 percent of the total proposed federal budget.

The President proposes to cut in the Pentagon budget by $78 billion over ten years by eliminating arms even the military does not want. But that is only $8 billion per year, much less than the overall increase in defense expenditures proposed in the budget. Yes, overall defense expenditures are budgeted to rise, even though they have already risen by 80 percent since 2000 without counting the cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We can easily halve our military expenditures. The U.S. already accounts for half of the world’s military spending. Our NATO and other close allies account for nearly another 25 percent. Of the remaining countries, most are not enemies either. For example, India, Brazil, South Africa and South Korea are clearly allies according to official and unofficial statements issued in our recent past. So we, our allies and other assorted friends account for nearly all defense expenditures in the world.

Countries that, with some imagination, could be described as threats—such as Russia and China—spend a very small fraction of what we spend on their militaries. Note that China’s announced increase in defense expenditures still takes it only to $100 billion, or little more than 10 percent of U.S. expenditures. It is likely that China spends as much as it does only because our monstrous military expenditures have forced it into an arms race to counter our growing military presence off the Chinese coast and throughout resource-rich Asia.

Even if we halve our military/intelligence expenditures, we and our allies would still spend at least three or four times as much as all of the countries that could even remotely be considered threats to our security. In short, no one is going to conquer us even if we halve our military expenditures to a still enormous half trillion dollars per year.

So why is the bloated and unnecessary $1 trillion-plus military budget not at the forefront of the budget discussions? The only ones who gain from this craziness are military contractors, Pentagon bosses looking forward to future careers at those contractors, and politicians who accept military contractors’ political contributions. For their benefit, the rest of us are now being asked to accept less social security, higher healthcare costs, fewer student loans, and less educated children.

Shouldn’t we be focusing on cutting the $1.5 trillion federal government budget by cutting the biggest waste first? Ask your Congressmen how it is possible that they cannot see the trillion-dollar elephant in the room.

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January 5th 2013

Steve Fahey - Well stated, I agree! Also, another reason we have this mess is because corporations use our military to police their interests around the world. I urge you all to at least sign this petition: