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More weapons, Less security?
weapons spending fiscal constraints cost overruns

Pentagon Pipe Dreams

Does a blank check for the corporations supplying the military make this or any nation more secure? This 2010 article is from the Weekly Wastebasket, Volume XV No. 5: February 5.

by Taxpayers for Common Sense

The Pentagon this time around requested another $700 billion as the Quadrennial Defense Review, a lengthy report outlining future military priorities, came out. Rather than offering a road map for achieving an effective national defense in the shadow of towering debt and deficits, the QDR leads us down a well-worn path of optimistic and unrealistic weapons spending.

The QDR was born in 1997 when Congress directed DOD to review long-term plans for force structure, modernization, and other military strategies every four years. Though the original law said the QDR must discuss the budget “required to provide sufficient resources” for the QDR’s goals, it was amended in 2007 to ensure the report was “not constrained to comply with the President’s budget submission.”

In 1997, a Republican-majority Congress was engaged in battle with Democratic President Bill Clinton over the post-Cold War weaponry drawdown. “There were some who felt we [taxpayers] weren't spending enough,” said DOD Comptroller Robert Hale. “They wanted a plan that gave them a sense of weapons requirements without fiscal constraints.” Ten years later, proponents of welfare for the military freed the QDR process from any budget-driven considerations.

The result is a document generally dismissed by defense analysts as irrelevant, little more than a government version of a glossy shareholders’ report. The 2010 QDR does dispose with the long-held goal of being able to fight two conventional wars simultaneously, but the basic military force structure is left unchanged. In fact, most of the text is devoted to “enhancements” of capabilities such as Special Operations Forces and unmanned aircraft.

The QDR admits that “many of these enhancements will be costly” and promises to identify “areas of possible divestment.” But the only tradeoffs referenced are last year’s cuts of weapons such as the F-22 Raptor and this year’s much smaller list of terminations. Important as those cuts were, they’re a drop in the bucket towards the QDR’s goal of “rebalancing” US military goals and resources.

Considering the current economy, this is a little like giving someone a risky loan without asking if they have a job. It’s not exactly news that the Defense Department has a problem when it comes to money: The Government Accountability Office last year found $300 billion in cost overruns, and the QDR itself acknowledges that unrealistic cost estimates were a major contributor. They also delay weapons delivery, making bad budgeting dangerous not just to our economy but our national security.

Removing resource constraints from planning exercises like the QDR sets us up to fail. It also deprives the Secretary of Defense of a sharp prod he could use to herd profligate service heads and lawmakers. Future QDRs should explicitly link strategic goals with fiscal projections, even if that means amending the law again. Disconnecting military planning from fiscal realities is not just bad economics -- its bad strategy.

JJS: Are Americans safer living in debt in order to fund an enormous military? Historically, one could say preparing for war resulted in war more often than not. And it’s not like powerful nations are never attacked.

Now that the attackers against superpowers are no longer other nations but renegade underground networks, is an enormous military even of much use?

US soldiers, when stationed abroad, are armed and dangerous and loyal to outsiders, and not exactly welcome; would Americans welcome foreign soldiers running around America, firing weapons? And in places like Western Europe, how could “defense” be the excuse for US bases? Closing them would save billions.

Would it make more sense to try to defuse conflicts before they begin? Such as by spreading prosperity, true free trade, and economic justice? Could we find and implement such strategies if we had a Department of Peace to balance the Department of War, renamed the Defense Department?

Yet arguing that your subsidies are bad, mine are good, is not necessary. A better way is geonomics: end subsidies to specific groups altogether (like weapons corporations) and instead pay a rent dividend to the citizenry in general. Getting an extra income, fewer people would enlist and with a smaller military, politicians would be more likely to find alternatives to war.

Once the power of the purse is in the hands of the people, not politicians, lobbyists would melt away. People could spend their extra income as they see fit. If they misspend, they could change their preferences far more easily than do-gooders can change public policy, which can outlive any usefulness it may have once had decades or centuries ago.

If we did not establish a Department of Peace but just set a good example by instituting economic justice within our borders, and given how fast, broadly, and deeply American culture spreads all over the globe (jazz, blue jeans, basketball, etc), probably there’s nothing that would make Americans and people everywhere more secure than adopting geonomics.

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Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.

Also see:

What's Bankrupting the Country?
http://www.progress.org/2009/embassy.htm

A step toward reason -- may it work
http://www.progress.org/2009/overruns.htm

Might some pork wrapped in the flag get fried?
http://www.progress.org/2008/pentagon.htm

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