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Entries tagged "military spending"

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Sequestering Military Spending

November 21, 2011 ·

In its final stages, debate over the supercommittee has boiled down to squeezing new revenues out of millionaires vs. cutting the social safety net. The largest portion of the discretionary budget, however, funds the military — and that fact has been mostly obscured in this equation. With the panel in its final death throes, military spending is emerging from the shadows in the form of “defense sequestration.” This is the requirement that failure would trigger $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, half of which would come from the Pentagon's coffers.

Thirteen straight years of military spending increases have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget. Photo by expertinfantry.Scare tactics don’t tend to produce entirely sensible legislation, and this one is no exception. Yet can these cuts be made with no sacrifice to our security? Emphatically, yes.

The Pentagon and its allies in industry and Congress are warning us over and over that this “doomsday” scenario will leave us weakened and vulnerable. They're ignoring several pretty important facts. The “sequestration” cuts, added to those already planned, would bring our military spending, in inflation-adjusted terms, to its 2007 level. Was anyone talking about doomsday then?

Thirteen straight years of military increases, moreover, have more than doubled the Pentagon's base budget (excluding war spending), bringing it to its highest level since World War II. And these increases have actually expanded the gap between U.S. military spending and the rest of the world. At the beginning of this period, we were spending about a third of the world’s total. Now we're spending about half.

Even if sequestration cuts across all military programs, this sort of ham-handed approach is safely doable. Our blank-check approach to military spending in this century has created waste in every program, waiting to be trimmed. Even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta works to protect his budget at the expense of all others, his Pentagon remains the only federal department that can't pass an audit of its books.

The Project On Government Oversight has calculated that simply cutting back by 15 percent on the privatization of military functions that has occurred in this period would save $300 billion over 10 years.

Is sequestration the best way to manage a defense drawdown? No. For one thing, the best way would make choices based on how much we need to spend, on what, to keep us safe. A new security strategy could allow us to question, for example, the need for our current “forward presence,” which has between 105 and 125 ships cruising around three oceans nearly all the time, and target savings accordingly in the naval budget. Sequestration bypasses this kind of thinking.

Nor would the sequestration “haircut” do anything good for our enduring unemployment crisis. Military cuts, it is true, will have a smaller impact on jobs than other cuts in the domestic discretionary budget. A study by economists at the University of Massachusetts found that $1 billion in military spending sustains about 11,000 jobs as compared to about 17,000 from an equivalent amount of spending on clean energy. Let's cut spending on military programs we don’t need and invest those savings in job creation by making things we do need.

This is the kind of vision laid out in a new report from my organization, the Institute for Policy Studies. It outlines a set of cuts to those military programs we don’t need, and combines that with fiscal reforms and pollution taxes. The result would be more than $800 billion we can invest in building the kind of country we all deserve.

A Dagger Pointed at Maryland's Peace Movement

October 17, 2011 ·

It's "a dagger pointed directly at the heart of Montgomery County," warned County Executive Ike Leggett.

Huh? Was there a do-it-yourself bomb shop in Bethesda? An open sewer in Silver Spring? An organization dedicated to teaching kids in Chevy Chase to smoke cigarettes? No, Leggett was fretting about a local, non-binding peace resolution.

The measure, that just a week earlier had appeared sure to pass the Montgomery County Council, would urge Congress to reallocate funds from spending on wars and weapons toward starved local services and community needs.

Lockheed Martin feels threatened by a peace resolution. Photo by ryry9379.When I first saw this quote in a Washington Examiner article, I thought I must've misread it. I located those darned reading glasses and read it again. OK, he really said that. "Leggett asked the council to table the resolution because it is a 'dagger pointed directly at the heart of Montgomery County,'" wrote reporter Rachel Baye.

Whoa. A dagger pointed directly at the heart of Maryland's Montgomery County? Nearly 1 million people live in the county, which blends Washington suburbs, medical research facilities, assorted government installations, and zoning-protected farmland.

I live in neighboring Prince George's County but have many friends and colleagues living there. I go to the movies in Bethesda. I sometimes buy food at the Takoma Park Co-op or the Trader Joe's in Sliver Spring. I would hate to see it all destroyed. And Montgomery, which happens to be one of the nation's 10 most affluent counties, has a pretty big heart. All that blood should the dagger, I mean the resolution, actually pass?

Leggett's outburst surprised me, in part because I recently participated in a town hall meeting where this topic was discussed with hundreds of Montgomery County residents, as well as some elected officials, and experts. I even said a word or two about the $2.5 trillion U.S. taxpayers have squandered on endless wars in the last decade and how Montgomery County's taxpayers will hand the Pentagon $2.5 billion next year. I think we'd all be better off if we spent that money on things that actually make our lives better.

The sentiment that excessive, inefficient, unnecessary military spending came at the expense of critical health, education, infrastructure needs of county residents seemed reasonable and unanimous. I didn't sense fear of imminent danger in the room. Plus, remember that this is a non-binding resolution. As Baye explained, "it had no chance to actually end wars or starve the Pentagon."

So, what's got Leggett so upset?

The military contractor Lockheed Martin is located in Montgomery County and employs 5,200 people in the county. We're all scared about jobs. Surely the resolution doesn’t want to cut jobs. I looked at the resolution again. Nope. There's nothing in there about firing Lockheed's employees or tossing any corporations into the Potomac River.

But we want plentiful and good jobs. As the hundreds of participants in that town hall meeting discussed, and the squelched resolution declares, the least economically beneficial way to spend a federal dollar is through military spending. Analysts have demonstrated that more and better jobs, which spur greater economic benefits for our local, state, and national economies, arise through federal spending on jobs in non-military fields such as infrastructure, transportation, healthcare, and education.

In other words, the government can create more jobs by hiring more teachers and doctors than soldiers. Economically, building bridges beats making bombers.

Montgomery County, like most other U.S. counties, has suffered significant cutbacks to these critical areas of community and human needs in recent years. The Pentagon's budget has not.

Lockheed may be particularly nervous because military spending cuts are on their way, thanks to the drive to shrink the budget deficit. The defense industry is already beginning to shift some operations away from military production more and more into non-military related activities. Lockheed Martin, like its competitors, employs thousands of people in areas of technology services that have nothing to do with the military.

Finally, shifting resources in that direction by cutting war spending won't only bring dollars home, but will push companies like Lockheed Martin further in the direction of non-defense jobs, thus creating more and better jobs for the county. This resolution puts Montgomery County residents on the side of progress and urges the state to move in the right direction sooner rather than later.

When deficit reduction is the goal of federal policy, the more money we spend on unnecessary weapons programs, costly ineffective wars, and unnecessary military bases, the less money there will be for teachers, police officers, firefighters, bridges, and roads in Maryland's Montgomery County and the rest of the nation.

Mr. Leggett, the dagger threatening our life's blood is the unnecessary suffering brought on by underinvestment in the vital services that provide our children with a good education, our families with good health, and our communities with green infrastructure improvements and jobs.

While many defense-industry jobs can't be immediately transitioned to the more economically beneficial jobs, many can and must be in the near future. This isn't only good economics, it's good for Maryland.

Every county in the nation should have similar resolutions urging the same thing. Thank you, Montgomery County, for leading the way.

Karen Dolan is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow and a member of the New Priorities Network coordinating committee.

Ten Years in Afghanistan

October 7, 2011 ·

U.S. Marines patrol through Trek Nawa, Afghanistan. Photo by Marine Corps.In Afghanistan, with 98,000 U.S. troops, almost 50,000 more NATO troops, and 100,000 U.S.-paid contractors still occupying the country, UN figures show unequivocally that violence is up – way up. But the U.S.-led NATO coalition still insists that its claims of reduced violence are absolutely accurate. Despite the economic crisis the U.S. has found the money to train several hundred thousand Afghan men as soldiers and police – but has only funded training for 2000 women as midwives.  Just as it was when the Taliban was in control, UNICEF figures show Afghanistan remains the worst place in the world for a child to be born and hope to survive to her or his fifth birthday – one of every four Afghan babies will die before that time.

So it’s no surprise to hear reports of a protest march in Kabul yesterday, chanting “No to Occupation” and “Americans Out” to commemorate ten years of war, while the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the U.S. forces themselves said nothing to acknowledge the bitter anniversary. 

Here in the U.S., with an economic crisis so dire that real unemployment is close to 15%, and double that in the African-American community, the war in Afghanistan cost more than $122 billion last year. That could have paid for 2.4 million good green middle-class jobs back home. Besides those killed, concern about the thousands of injured soldiers, disgust with the vast corruption of the Kabul government, outrage at the expansion of the war to a massive drone war in Pakistan, Yemen and beyond, has led to growing opposition to what was once deemed the “good war.”  In fact public opposition has spiked to more than 64%, who believe the Afghanistan war is not worth fighting. What a transformation from the first days of the war, when a whopping 88% of people in the U.S. were enthusiastic supporters!

So it’s no surprise that the “Occupy Wall Street” and the vast array of similar Occupy US protests are erupting across the country, just at the moment of the ten years of war in Afghanistan, fighting back against the lack of jobs, the unfair taxes, the bailouts of the banks but not of the people, foreclosures on houses but not on tax-cheat corporations, and so much more. And while the billions wasted on the war in Afghanistan isn’t always on top of the protest signs, ask any Occupy protester whether they think the war is a good use of their tax money – and see how powerful the opposition. For the same reason that the New Priorities Network, linking trade unions, community-based economic justice organizations and peace activists, has come together to call for moving the money – out of the wars and Pentagon budgets, and into jobs and our communities and reparations for the damage we’ve done in Afghanistan and beyond.

The legacy of the U.S. government and the Wall Street corporations that back it is the ten years of violence, death and destruction in Afghanistan and ten years of economic crisis at home in a war that has killed too many Afghans and not made us one whit safer. 

But OUR legacy is in the ten years of anti-war organizing that helped transform public opinion from fear-based massive embrace of the war to an outraged majority opposition. OUR legacy is in the growing links between our movement and the peace campaigners in Afghanistan and around the world demanding an end to occupation and new approaches to protect people’s lives, human rights, women, children and the land of Afghanistan. OUR legacy is in the rising protest movements challenging not only the system of wars and warmongers and war profiteers, but the banks and corporations and billionaires that feed them.  Ten years on, OUR legacy is more powerful than ever.

Cut Nine Military Programs, Save $77 Billion

July 21, 2011 ·

After weeks of negotiations military cuts seem to be on the table as reported in today's Washington Post. In case anyone in Congress is looking for a quick $77 billion in savings, we thought it would be good to list the proposed reductions to the 2012 fiscal year's military budget in the Unified Security Budget task force report that IPS released last month:


1. National Missile Defense: Cease further Missile Defense development but retain a basic technology program to determine if NMD is technically feasible, generating $3.6 billion in savings.

2. Virginia Class Submarine: Cancel production of the second SSN-744 Virginia Class submarine in FY2012 and in subsequent years, saving $2.41 billion in 2012 and $11.32 billion through 2016.

3. V-22 Osprey: Cancel the V-22 Osprey program for savings of $2.79 billion in FY2012.

4. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter: Cut the Navy and Marine Corps versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, and reduce procurement for Air Force version by half, saving $5.6 billion.

5. Personnel: Reduce the number of active-duty personnel stationed in Europe and Asia, allowing for savings of $6.5 billion in 2012.

6. Nuclear Forces: Reduce nuclear weapons arsenal to 292 deployed weapons and 19 in reserve and eliminate the Trident II nuclear missile, generating $21 billion in savings.

7. Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation: Reduce RDT&E across the board from $74.3 to $65.3 billion, saving $10 billion.

8. Force Structure: Cut two active component air wings, two carrier battle groups and their associated air wings from the Air Force for an annual savings of $8 billion.

9. Waste and Inefficiencies: Use waste and efficiency savings identified across the department to reduce the budget saving $20 billion.

The USB report showed that the Pentagon is spending billions in weapons that have no match around the world and which are unlikely to be used in combat in any strategic military engagement by the United States.

Will the military budget emerge from the ongoing spending reductions unscathed? Or, will someone take a stand and trim its fat?

Hollow Deficit Debate Ignores the Burden of Afghanistan Military Spending

July 15, 2011 ·

At this moment the hollow debate on the deficit has sucked up almost all the oxygen in the Capitol. Yet the war in Afghanistan which costs us hundreds of billions of dollars a year is scarcely mentioned. Sixty-four percent of the people of this country believe that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, so representing "the people" should mean using Congressional power to end that war — not least because the war budget is the biggest potential source of money to pay for jobs.

Congress isn't doing that yet. But it's encouraging to remember that there are a few — painfully few! — members of Congress still prepared to really represent the views of their constituents. Seattle-area Congressman Jim McDermott spoke on the floor of the House this week, focusing once again on the unacceptable costs of the Afghanistan war. 

McDermott identified the war as reflecting the kind of military expansion that brings about the collapse of empires. And he even took on the popular claim that it was Ronald Reagan's presidency that brought down the Soviet Union, reminding us all that it was military spending, especially in Afghanistan, that actually brought about Soviet collapse.

Crucially, McDermott noted that the U.S. is now spending two-and-a-half times as big a percentage of its GDP on its ten-year war in Afghanistan, as the Soviet Union spent during its ten years of war in Afghanistan. Here's the speech:

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