Groups Urge Overhaul of Pentagon Budget

With Congress on the verge of approving yet another record Pentagon budget, a task force of nearly two dozen progressive policy analysts is calling for major changes in the way the United States allocates money for its common defense.

Noting that Washington currently spends six dollars on its military for every one dollar it spends on homeland security, diplomacy, foreign aid, and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the group argues that a three-to-one ratio is more reasonable and well within reach.

The Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States, 2007, calls in particular for shaving $62 billion from the pending 2007 defense budget of nearly $440 billion, with most of the cuts coming from advanced weapons systems that have little relevance to threats faced by Washington today.

Of those savings, $52 billion should be added to homeland security, particularly to upgrade port inspections, and to diplomatic accounts, such as foreign aid, that are designed to reduce or preempt discontent or hostility toward the U.S. before it develops into an actual military threat, according to the task force report, which was sponsored by the Center for Defense Information (CDI), the Security Policy Working Group, and Foreign Policy in Focus.

In particular, the 45-page report argues in favor of using a new framework for Congress to consider in allocating national security spending – a "Unified Security Budget" (USB) that would divide the main components into "offense" consisting primarily of military forces; "defense" for homeland security; and "prevention," which would include diplomacy, weapons nonproliferation, and foreign aid.

"This budget would give Congress a look at the big picture, and provide the basis for a better debate over this nation’s security priorities," according to the report, which also pointed out that they echo recommendations made nearly two years ago by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission.

The Commission report, which became an overnight bestseller, called for the adoption of a "a preventive strategy that is as much, or more, political as it is it is military" and urged the president and Congress to adequately fund the "full range" of nonmilitary, as well as military, security tools to effectively fight the "global war on terrorism."

That view has recently received additional support from a growing number of conservative commentators, such the former chief of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. Anthony Zinni, and foreign policy intellectual Francis Fukuyama who, in his recent book, America at the Crossroads, criticized U.S. policy as over-militarized.

At some $440 billion for 2007, the Pentagon’s defense budget would exceed the combined military budgets of the world’s 25 next most-powerful nations, according to recent estimates.

In fact, the Pentagon’s budget substantially understates the amount Washington spends on the military. Nuclear weapons activities, on which the George W. Bush administration hopes to spend nearly $22 billion next year, for example, are allocated to the Energy Department.

In addition, the regular Pentagon budget does not include the costs of U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which currently are running at nearly $10 billion a month.

"When these costs are added in, military spending for the coming year will exceed 600 billion dollars – a figure that would exceed both the heights of the [President Ronald] Reagan military buildup [in the early 1980s] and the Vietnam War, in inflation-adjusted terms," said Miriam Pemberton, the report’s co-author, based at the Institute for Policy Studies.

That trend cannot be sustained, particularly given the huge budget deficits – more than $400 billion this year – Washington has incurred under Bush’s presidency and the projected growth in Pentagon spending as laid out in its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) released earlier this year, according to the report.

At the same time that Pentagon spending continues to grow, however, the Bush administration has recommended some cuts to the homeland security budget.

Thus, even while the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has warned that weapons of mass destruction are mostly likely to enter the United States through its ports, the administration intends to spend "four times more deploying a missile defense system that has failed most of its tests than [it] will spend on port security."

Those priorities should change, according to the report, which calls above all for major cuts in weapons systems that, like the missile defense system, are either unproven or that are designed to counter conventional threats that, given Washington’s current military dominance, are very unlikely to materialize over the next decade or beyond.

National missile defense programs, for example, should be cut from a proposed $10.4 billion in 2007 to $2.4 billion; similarly, $14 billion could be saved by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 1,000 weapons and eliminating the Trident II nuclear missile.

Nearly $20 billion could be cut from several major weapons programs, including the Virginia-Class submarine, the DD(X) destroyer, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the troubled V-22 Osprey rotor-aircraft and C-130 transport programs, and offensive space-based weapons systems, according to the report.

"We need to stop spending money on those weapons systems that do not advance national security," said co-author Lawrence Korb, a senior Reagan Pentagon official who is now based at the Center for American Progress.

Some $7 billion could be saved by deactivating two air force wings and one Navy carrier battle force, as well, according to the report.

The resulting savings should be reallocated to key diplomatic and homeland security programs, the report urged.

In particular, State Department programs to curb the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction should be increased from a proposed $1.3 billion to nearly $6 billion; U.S. contributions to international organizations and peacekeeping should be increased from $2.8 billion to more than $5 billion; and development assistance to poor countries, currently a little more than $3 billion, should be increased by $10 billion.

On homeland security, the report calls for increasing spending on public health infrastructure and "first responders," such as police and firefighters, from $5.5 billion to $14 billion. Spending on container and port security should increase from a proposed $2.4 billion to $5 billion.

The report also calls for increasing the budget to develop alternative energy sources – an initiative that Bush himself touted in his State of the Union Address – from a proposed $1.2 billion to $10 billion in 2007.

(Inter Press Service)

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Author: Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe writes for Inter Press Service.