17 July 2010

U.S. military spending: ensuring security or threatening it?

The U.S. defence budget for 2010 is $680-billion, an amount almost equal to the rest of the world's military spending combined. And this doesn't include such items as nuclear weapons research, pensions for military retirees and their families, interest on debt incurred in past wars, or financing of foreign arms sales. But does lavishing all these billions on armaments help to ensure Americans' security or does it undermine it?

It is hard to believe that any other nation is so threatening to the United States that this kind of muscle is justified. The only country that might be considered a great power competitor is China, and its military budget is one-ninth as large. Indeed, the major threats to the U.S. don't come from other nations, but rather from extremists groups and dealing with them doesn't require massive armaments. 9/11 didn't happen because the Americans were insufficiently armed, it happened because of a lack of intelligence. The best weapon against terrorism is good intelligence - and good police work. In fact, most of the terrorist threat against the U.S. would fade away if the Americans minded their own business a little more and interfered in other peoples' affairs a little less. There is clearly room for dramatic cuts in U.S. military spending without compromising American security.

A more important concern is the threat this excessive spending poses to the country domestically, particularly the threat to Americans' security when ill, or aging, or unemployed, or when poverty strikes. Congressman Barney Frank nicely expressed this concern when he recently said, "If we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget ... it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity ... [American] well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face."

This threat to American well-being is already showing up in various areas. For example, maternal mortality in the U.S. is higher than in 40 other countries, and has been increasing for 20 years. The U.S. also has the highest infant mortality rate among Western nations.

Cash-strapped states such as California, threatened with mass layoffs of police, teachers and other public workers, could be greatly assisted by federal funding but enabling legislation is held up by a Senate reluctant to inflate federal debt. A bill to extend unemployment benefits is also stalled, even though the number of American workers who have gone without a job for six months or more is the highest since WWII. Defence spending rarely encounters such thrift.

Despite the deteriorating domestic scene, military spending increased this year to its highest level in 50 years. Meanwhile, from women seeking secure childbirth to people seeking a secure job, the situation worsens. If a large chunk of that defence budget were switched to domestic programs, Americans' security just might be considerably enhanced.

No comments:

Post a Comment