“Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”
— President Obama, speaking at the Pentagon, Jan. 5, 2012
Despite our profound indebtedness, the state of the U.S. economy, and the outcries of the Occupiers, Obama’s statement confirms fears that military spending will continue to grow over the next 10 years. In real terms, the base military budget is going to remain at levels higher than at any point during the Bush administration.
While most Americans have grown weary of our lengthy wars, influential profiteers have lobbied hard for their persistence. Although President Obama has been hailed for his diplomatic efforts by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, the themes (and consequences) of U.S. military strategy have not differed greatly from the Bush era.
This election year has been particularly telling. Employment has undoubtedly been on the forefront of American minds, and according to IPS scholar Janet Redman, “the idea of spending money overseas is entirely unpalatable to the many people who feel economically squeezed right now.” As a result, the Pentagon has scrambled to convince the public that a cut in defense would equate to enormous job loss. In October, a controversial job study by the Aerospace Industries Association was repeatedly quoted by officials concerned by the purported “million” layoffs that could occur from a decrease in the defense budget.
On the contrary, Miriam Pemberton and William Hartung have argued that “maintaining Pentagon spending at current high levels while pushing the burden of budget cuts on domestic programs would result in a net loss of jobs nationwide.” To be fair, military spending does create a lot of jobs, but more jobs are created by other sectors. Put simply, other sectors of the economy can create more jobs than the military industrial complex—and for less. Costofwar.com cites construction, education, and even home weatherization as more sustainable and stimulative industries.
President Obama has explicitly embraced national security as one of his campaign issues. For example, he has opened a joint military base with Australia in order to “play a larger and long-term role in shaping [the East Asian] region and its future.” Because this is essentially the equivalent of Russia opening up a base in Cuba during the Cold War, it’s no surprise that China has reacted negatively to the decision. It appears that the U.S. government will continue to leverage its military in order to maintain control over resources. Moves like this prove that pre-emption is still a prevailing theme of U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, preemption not only produces backlash but is also inordinately expensive.
From Australia to AFRICOM, the Pentagon continues to extend its global reach. The costs of war already far outweigh the benefits, but the way our spending looks, war will be an enduring staple of our economy. According to military researcher Nick Turse, “recently, the Army sought bids from contractors willing to supply power plants and supporting fuel systems at forward operating bases in Afghanistan for up to five years.” Withdrawal of troops seems to be a subjective term. Where is the drawdown we have been told about?
In a roundtable with young graduates, Janet Redman advised our future leaders that “it is time to realize that the world outside of the U.S. is not just a threat — it is our global community.” Our global economy desperately needs an alternative to militarization. If you are frustrated that your government is spending money on violence instead of job creation, if you are tired of elite defense contractors from the 1 percent sucking tax dollar coffers dry, if you see our “defense” system as offensive, check out demilitarize.org, and connect with activists and advocates in your area to protest.
Already, more than 130 groups in at least 39 countries are involved in the second annual Global Day of Action against Military Spending, which is set for Tuesday, April 17 — Tax Day in the United States. From street theater in Dhaka, demonstrations in Istanbul, a parliamentary debate in Yaoundé, protests against military bases in Okinawa, a peace village in Oslo, a high-level seminar at the UN in Geneva, a flash mob in Oakland, Tax Day leafleting in Bethlehem, PA, and a “walk of shame” in Washington DC, we will be occupying the global military industrial complex and advocating investments in people. Join us!
Emily Norton is an intern at the Institute of Policy Studies.