This bi-weekly column presents contrasting perspectives from a progressive and a conservative point of view on current issues of public interest. It is not a debate as such, but rather an effort to stimulate thoughtful discussion among Atencion readers.
You are encouraged to share your ideas with a letter to the Editor.
Reduce US Military spending
By Betsy Bowman
The United States military consumes fully one-half of the annual budget of the US government. What does it do with its roughly $1.5 trillion dollars? Does all that money support and defend the living standards of the US citizenry and legal residents? Does it make us feel safe from attack? Unless the answer to those questions is a resounding “Yes!,” then I would suggest the monies spent on military hardware be spent on social programs that support and defend our living standards (education, health care, etc.) and on programs that make us feel safe: safe from extreme weather, safe from homelessness, safe from joblessness, safe from illness, etc.
I won’t remind the reader of what is commonly known—the revolving door (that greases collusion and corruption) between the military contractors, the Pentagon and Congress; the astounding waste of various construction projects and mountains of military equipment; the appalling lack of care for Veterans.
What the reader might not know is that the US military doesn’t even know how many bases, installations, floating bases, secret black holes, etc. it has. A good guess is about 1,000 in 151 of the 192 countries belonging to the UN around the world. There are also “special ops” going on in 120 countries around the world. “Special ops” means the US military is killing people in 120 countries around the world, thus creating enemies instead of promoting friendship and good will. Secret black holes where people are tortured are illegal and unconstitutional and do not make us safer. The blurring of the line between “defense” and “intelligence” does not make us stronger.
In fact, this is not “defense.” This is global military domination. Nothing can justify the amount of money—one half of the US budget —that is spent on so-called “defense.” Who is threatening the US? The US spends more than the rest of the world combined on “defense.” It is unconscionable that one third of people in the US live in poverty; half live in near poverty. Poverty is weakness. If invaders from outer space came and promised health care, jobs, expanded Social Security, free education— they would probably be welcomed.
The Defense Departament provides a lot of jobs. That’s true. If the Defense Departament is a jobs program in disguise, why don’t we make it a real jobs program and provide jobs that are needed—teachers, rural doctors and nurses, etc.
The Defense budget does a lot of research and development. If the Defense Departament is the industrial planning departament in disguise, why don’t we make it explicitly government-funded research and development (like the National Institutes for Health) for things we need such, as renewable energy rather than things we don’t need such as bombs.
Not long ago, people were taught that there was such a thing as progress—which meant things were getting better. As a child in the 1960s, I was taught that science and technology would bring us a future of leisure and intellectual and cultural fulfillment. The problems of the world would be solved, and we could devote our time to cultural and intellectual enrichment of our lives and our society.
The Europeans spent several centuries fighting backward thinking and ideas such as “might makes right” and the “divine right” of kings to rule. In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia declared unacceptable and illegal the wanton invasion and pillage of a neighbor and seizure of his/her land. The Enlightenment proclaimed that all people are equal and that freedom, equality and brotherhood for all are more worthwhile than constant warfare and rulers’ self-aggrandizement.
What kind of society do we want? Do we want an empire that plunders and pillages foreign lands and threatens inhabitants with death if they object to this pillage and plunder? Have we learned nothing over 5,000 years of civilization? We have to choose between global military domination and well-being and happiness for everyone. I know which I chose. Do you?
Betsy Bowman, Ph.D. is President and Research Associate of the Center for Global Justice
Now is no time for defense cuts
By Herb Wilson
In 1990, Saddam Hussein had Iraq invade Kuwait. He did this largely because he believed that Kuwait was not important to the strategic interests of the United States based on a comment from the US Ambassador. This message is what provided the impetus for the aggression in the Middle East. The current long-term Defense Budget proposed by the Obama Administration gives the same message of America’s abandonment of its strategic interests and allies and raises the risk of global instability and conflict in the future.
Currently the US Defense Budget is 4.6 percent of GDP, down from a post-WW2 high of 9.5 percent in 1968. It is projected by this Administration to fall to 2.4 percent by 2023. The practical effects of this reduction have been a significant decrease in the size of the US military. In 1991 (at 5.8 percent of GDP), the US Army consisted of 28 total divisions and the Navy had 15 aircraft carriers. Today it is 18 divisions and 10 carriers. Future cuts will further reduce US forces and so, peacekeeping ability.
Specifically, the Army will be forced to go to “tiered readiness” systems, thus reducing availability. The Navy is decreasing readiness to ensure its shipbuilding program, as today more ships are being retired than constructed. The Air Force is cutting everything to keep its modernization program.
There are arguments that in a time of asymmetric threats (the “War on Terror”), the US can afford to curtail the weapons systems of the Cold War. This could not be further from the truth. Putin has repeatedly said the greatest disaster of the twentieth century was the dissolution of the Soviet Union and openly speaks of the re-creation of it. The Chinese have made serious efforts in the South China Sea that threaten Japan, the Philippines and other US allies. Asymmetric threats have not eliminated threats; rather they are new ones that added to existing threats.
How has this taken place? To answer that question an understanding of Defense budgeting is required. Every four years the Department of Defense prepares the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which is by law required to analyze the possible strategic threats to the US, and recommends to Congress appropriate force levels. In this iteration of the QDR, the administration has instructed those preparing the report to ignore strategic considerations and to focus only of reducing the defense budget, making fiscal considerations supreme over defense considerations. This process insures that the force we will have in the future will not be capable of meeting the threats which may emerge over the next 10 years.
Clearly the world will not be a less dangerous than it has been. In Congressional testimony, the Director of National Intelligence has admitted that Al Qaeda is as dangerous as ever. China is on the rise and expansive and threatens our Asian allies. The Middle East is restive at best. Russia wants to re-create the Soviet Union and threatens eastern Europe and NATO. Clearly this is not the time to reduce the defense budget to a percentage of GDP that has not been seen since before Pearl Harbor.
Herb Wilson has lived in San Miguel for over 10 years after retiring from the Telecommunications Industry. Currently he provides US Tax Preparation Services for the San Miguel community.