Reviews | The Pentagon’s budget will increase, to the detriment of American security

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Bipartisanship is a rare and endangered species in today’s bitterly divided Washington. Except when it comes to one thing: the Pentagon budget.

From Speaker Nancy Pelosi and his fellow House Democrats to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Senate Republicans, all agree that the Department of Defense — which already has a larger budget, in comparable dollars, than its levels during the Cold War, and larger than the combined military budgets of the next nine biggest spenders — must have more. The only argument is how far the “upper line” should go.

Ironically, this single area of ​​bipartisan consensus is a tribute not to the wisdom of the center but to its folly. Even though the military budget continues to increase, Americans are less and less secure.

The pandemic has claimed the lives of more than one million Americans. While much of the world still lacks vaccines and functioning public health systems, the global toll continues to rise. And neither the United States nor the rest of the world are even nearly prepared for the next pandemic which, given our global economy, is sure to follow.

Meanwhile, last year only the United States suffered 20 climate disasters that cost more than a billion dollars in damage. Drought now endangers much of the West. Floods threaten the heart of the country. Hurricanes are expected to get more and more violent. Yellowstone National Park, with its recent drastic snowmelt and devastating floods, is just the last victim destructive effects of global warming. And yet the Pentagon will get more money as efforts to kick-start investments to fight catastrophic climate change are stalled by Republican opposition in the Senate.

What is all this new defense spending for? A part will go to the construction of bases and armaments in Asia to counter China. But the Chinese compete most effectively not with military forces, but with successful economic mercantilism. They focus on capturing markets, locking in access to resources, and investing to dominate emerging industries and technologies of the future. The Pentagon’s new weapons and bases will not replace our failure to invest in cutting-edge R&D, modern and efficient infrastructure, and a trade policy that serves Americans rather than multinationals.

The other target is Russia. Some of the most popular arguments for increased military spending have been shown to be weak as the war in Ukraine exposes the limits of the Russian military and Germany and other NATO allies falter. undertake to considerably increase their military expenditure. And yet, somehow, the Russian threat, as manifested in its invasion of Ukraine, remains the excuse for more Pentagon spending, not less.

The heart of the argument is both logical and absurd. The United States maintains more than 700 databases in some 80 countries around the world. The Pentagon conducted counterterrorism operations in at least 85 countries, nearly half of the world’s nation states. He is now preparing to be able to face both Russia and China. If the United States undertakes to police the world, the military budget will always be insufficient by definition. The mission, however, is absurd – and ruinous, if we are to rebuild and ensure a healthy and thriving democracy at home.

What fuels the bipartisan consensus on military spending is of course not logic or even security. Pentagon spending is armed and protected by the military-industrial complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us about more than 60 years ago. Eisenhower was prescient but too optimistic. Now we have, as former intelligence official Ray McGovern dubs it, “MICIMATT” – a military-industrial-congressional-intelligence-media-academic-think tank complex that is the most powerful lobby of them all.

OpenSecrets, the authoritative nonpartisan source on campaign finance and lobbying, reports that the arms industry spent an estimated $300 million on campaign contributions and $2.5 billion on lobbying during the outbreak. Pentagon spending after 9/11. Each year, the industry employs an average of 700 lobbyists, more than one for every member of Congress. The Pentagon practically invented the revolving door: a recent Government Accountability Office Report identified 1,700 generals, admirals and Pentagon procurement officers who went to work at the 14 major arms suppliers after leaving the government. According to a 2020 report, contractors and the Pentagon paid more than $1 billion to the nation’s top 50 think tanks, another source of sinecure for former military officials, from 2014 to 2019.

However, none of these are as powerful as the political process of defense industry procurement and production, which systematically allocates jobs to key congressional districts nationwide. As William Hartung, Principal Investigator at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, recently reported, the website of Lockheed Martin, a leading defense contractor, includes a map showing the state-by-state impact of the 250,000 jobs it says are linked to its work on the F-35 fighter jet in difficulty. The company claims to have contractors in 45 states and Puerto Rico.

As Congress completes its work on authorizing the defense budget, bipartisan support will likely lift the turnover higher than the Pentagon or the president have asked for. But as the military grows, Americans will become less secure, battered by real threats that more weapons won’t respond to.

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