Military Industrial Complex grows, while
our national security diminishes, Part 2
Bob Sheak, Feb 17, 2018; March 14, 2018
The U.S. federal government budget for 2019, as passed by both houses in the U.S. Congress and signed into law by Trump on Friday, February 9, 2018, is greatly increased over 2018, both on the military and non-military sides of the budget. The focus here continues to be on the military increases and how they are justified. The thrust of my analysis is that the military budget is excessive and that the justifications for it, which will to our misfortune and provide a rationale for continuing increases in the military budget for years to come, increases our chances of going to war, if not nuclear war. I’ll send out Part 3 in a few days that will focus on the Trump administration’s “nuclear weapons” policy.
But before turning to this analysis, I need to touch on another development that, unfortunately but not unsurprisingly, brings some added confusion to the budgetary process in Washington. Just days after this budget deal on February 9 was reached, Trump’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released on February 12 a separate report titled “An American Budget,” a budget that projects the desired fiscal outlays over the coming decade of the Trump administration. The OMB budget essentially repudiates close to one-half of the earlier budget signed into law by calling for steep cuts in a host of non-defense programs. In this 160-page report, the projected budgets for 19 agencies and related programs are considered. Obamacare is “repealed and replaced.” Funding is cut for the “welfare system,” federal student loans, disability programs, retirement programs for federal employees, Medicaid, Medicare, agriculture, and so much more. You can find the text of “An American Budget” at: http://whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/budget-fy2019.pdf. The National Priorities Project offers an analysis of the OMB budget in an article titled “Trump’s FY 2019 Budget Request Has Massive Cuts for Nearly Everything But the Military” (https://www.nationalpriorities.org/analysis/2018/trumps-fy2019-budget-request-has-massive-cuts-nearly-everything-military).
Reflecting its denial or dismissal of human-caused climate change, John R. Platt reports for Truth Out with the title “Fourteen Environmental Programs Eliminated in Trump’s Budget Proposal” (http://truth-out.org/news/item/43558-fourteen-environmental-programs-eliminated-in-trump-s-budget-proposal).
I’m not sure now whether the budget deal signed into law on February 9 will frame and limit the congressional debates and actions over at least the 2019 budget. Given the Republican Party’s right-wing ideology, its commitment to its corporate and upper-class support and its hawkish military policies, there is reason to be concerned that the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress will find ways to renege on their initial support for increases on the non-defense programs and do so with the encouragement of the White House.
Economist Linda J. Bilmes reminds us that the 2019 budget signed into law does end the legislative process. She writes: “…the current deal technically only funds the government through March 23. Congress still must navigate a number of procedural hurdles such as getting the new spending figures into specific appropriations bills (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/43526-congress-budget-dysfunction-is-more-than-four-decades-in-the-making). This gives Republicans in the congress ample opportunities to gut spending on non-defense programs.
However, there is one thing amidst the political jockeying over the budget that is totally – and unfortunately – clear. Whatever the outcome for the non-defense side of the budget ledger, both the February 9 budget agreement and the OMB (White House) budget proposal call for large increases in the Pentagon budget along with increases in other military-relevant programs. So, the Pentagon will have increases in its base budget of about $82 billion, both in 2019 and 2020. And when all the other military-relevant parts of the budgets are considered, the total outlays will be over a trillion dollars each of these years.
Review of Part 1 on the FY 2018 military budget.
In Part 1 of this essay,I relied on Kimberly Amadeo’s analysis of the costs of the 2018 military relevant parts of the budget (http://www.thebalance.com/u-s-military-budget-components-challenge-growth-3306320).
She is an economic expert, author of several books, President of the World Money Watch, and contributor to The Balance. In her analysis of military sections of the 2018 budget, she included not only the base defense allocation of $574.5 billion for the Department of Defense, but also other budgetary items that have clear military relevance, namely, (1) $64.6 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations for the fight against the Islamic State group, (2) $173.5 billion for other agencies that have relevance for national defense, including $78.9 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $27.1 billion for the State Department, $44.1 billion for Homeland Security, $9.5 billion for FBI and Cybersecurity in the Department of Justice, and $13.9 billion for the National Security Administration in the Department of Energy, and (3) $12 billion in Overseas Contingency Funds for the State Department and Homeland Security. When Amadeo adds all of the items up, the total is $824.6 billion. Amadeo’s analysis forces us to consider a more extensive set of federal government expenditures on “national security” than one typically finds in government and media reports.
However, as I pointed out in Part 1, the figure for military-relevant expenditures would be even larger than Amadeo estimates if the following are considered: (1) the interest on the growing national debt of over $20 trillion and rising that is linked to past wars and the deployment of special forces around the world, (2) a fuller estimate of VA costs of paying for the long-term care of those traumatized or physically injured in U.S. wars (principally, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan), and (3) the cost to families and communities of having to care for hundreds of thousands of traumatized and physically wounded veterans. The total amount being spent by the federal government on “defense” easily exceeds a trillion dollars this year in FY 2018 and will also for the next two years or more. By the way this estimate does not include how much of the Pentagon’s budget is wasted. See Harry Blain’s article in Foreign Policy in Focus titled “The Scale of Pentagon Waste Boggles the Mind, But Congress Keeps Giving Them More” (http://fpif.org/the-scale-of-pentagon-waste-boggles-the-mind-but-conress-keeps-giving-them-more). Moreover, large sums will be spent on major weapons’ systems that are of unreliable operationally (e.g., F-35 fighter plane) or of dubious strategic value. On this issue, see William Hartung’s article, “2018 Looks Like an Arms Bonanza,” at: http://commondreams.org/views/2018/01/11/2018-looks-arms-bonanza.
And there is another consideration. Amadeo’s estimate of the allocation for the Energy Department does not question the official government estimates on what it is spending – and plans to spend – on the “modernization” of U.S. nuclear weapons, that is, according to official sources, at least $1.2 trillion to $1.7 trillion over the next 30 years, or about $40 billion to $57 billion a year. It’s important also to note that the estimated costs for the nuclear modernization program are based on weak assumptions that do not figure in inflation or that there will not be substantial cost-over-runs and delays. In other words, the final costs for outlays for nuclear weapons are most likely to be much higher than the government’s estimates. This is a topic I’ll take up in Part 3 of the email.
The 2019 and 2020 budgets include hefty increases for the Department of Defense and military-relevant agencies
In the early hours of Friday, February 9, 2018, after a brief five and a half hour shutdown of parts of the federal government, the Senate and House approved a two-year budget, increasing spending by $400 billion over the next two years. The vote in the House was 240 in favor of the budget to 186 opposed. Seventy-three democrats voted in favor of the bill, though a majority of 124 Democrats voted against it. On the Republican side, a strong majority favored the bill, while 67 Republicans voted against it. In the Senate, 71 voted yes and 28 voted no. The overall vote may be viewed as something less than a robust bipartisan bill but nonetheless had some bipartisan, that is more than a little Democratic, support.
The deal was reached when Republican leaders in the Senate and House won Democratic support by including large increases in both military (especially favored by the Republicans) and non-military parts of the budget (especially favored by the Democrats).
To encourage Democratic support in the House, majority leader Paul Ryan announced that he would allow debate on immigration, especially on DACA, in the next week or so. Ryan is quoted, “we will focus on bringing that debate to this floor and finding a solution” (Thomas Kaplan, https://www.nytimes.com/us/politics/congress-budget-deal-vote.html). There is not much time to resolve this issue, since DACA formerly expires in March (Andrew Taylor, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/congress-votes-to-reopen-government-passes-budget-deal). There’s also reason to worry about whether Ryan will fulfill his commitment, given the history of Republican manipulation of and obstruction on immigration policies. As of now, the Republicans will only support DACA if it is included in a larger immigration bill that includes money for Trump’s “wall” and the beefing up of border security forces, an end to family unification, reductions in legal immigration, the continuing deportation of unauthorized (undocumented) immigrants, and perhaps federal government sanctions against sanctuary cities, involving, for example, the withholding of federal funds and/or the incarceration of local officials and residents who provide sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants.
The 2019-2020 budget legislation includes “about $300 billion in additional funding over two years for military and nonmilitary programs,” $165 billion for the military and $131 billion plus for non-defense programs. In addition, there is in the budget “$90 billion in disaster relief in response to last year’s hurricanes and wildfires,” along with “a higher statutory debt ceiling (Kaplan), “a grab bag of health and tax provisions,” and $16 billion “to renew a slew of expired tax breaks that Congress seems unable to kill” (Taylor). The text of the deal is more than 600 pages (Kaplan). The military portion comes to about an $80 billion dollar a year in 2019 and again in 2020.
The budget is expected to increase the federal deficit for just 2019 to $1.2 trillion, continuing the upward trend begun in Trump’s first year, when the deficit was close to $900 billion. The projected deficit for 2019 reflects not only the budget agreement and but also the effect of the recent tax reform, disproportionately geared to the interests of large corporations and the wealthy. Ryan rationalized the rising deficits by emphasizing that the large increases in spending on the military is necessary “to restore our military’s edge for years to come” (Taylor).
But the deficits are an embarrassment to the Republicans because they conflict with the party’s fiscally-conservative philosophy, that is, that the budget should be balanced and the federal government should be kept small, while implicitly maintaining subsidies and tax breaks for their rich and powerful supporters. In an early morning tweet on Friday, February 9, President Trump said he signed the bill, adding: “Our Military will now be stronger than ever before. We Love and need our Military and gave them everything – and more” (Kaplan). In another tweet, the president blamed Democrats for the increases in spending for non-defense programs and said that with more Republicans in Congress such increases would not occur.
The New York Times’ editorial board lambasted Trump and the Republicans for their hypocrisy (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/10/opinion/sunday/republicans-deficit-debt.html.). The editors wrote:
“So much for all that sanctimony about fiscal responsibility. Forever and always, it can now be said that Republican lawmakers care about the federal deficit only when they want to use it to bash Democratic presidents.
“After embracing $1.5 trillion in debt by slashing taxes on corporations and wealthy families in December, the Republican leaders in Congress pushed through a two-year budget deal on Friday that will increase spending by nearly $400 billion. While a lot of that money will be spent on important priorities like disaster relief, infrastructure and education, a big chunk of it will go to an excessive and unnecessary military buildup. Contrast this with the parsimony Republican lawmakers displayed in 2011 when they refused to raise the federal debt limit until President Barack Obama agreed to deep cuts to government programs.”
The editors also emphasized that the U.S. military budget is already larger than it needs to be and that the increases are unnecessary.
“But the deal Mr. Trump approved on Friday also includes a $165 billion increase in military spending over two years, more than the Trump administration had even requested. Military spending will jump to $716 billion in 2019, from $634 billion in 2017. [The military spending here refers to the appropriations for the DOD and for the Overseas Contingency Operations but leaves out other military-relevant items.] In inflation-adjusted terms, that would put the Pentagon’s budget well above the Reagan buildup of the 1980s and nearly as high as in 2010 — the peak of military spending since World War II — when more than 200,000 troops were deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even before this latest increase, the Pentagon’s budget exceeded the combined military spending of the next eight biggest defense spenders globally — a list that includes Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and India.
Not all of the defense increases are of concern or objectionable. The new budget includes increases for active service members, including incentive bonuses, boosts in compensation, and improved health care benefits. At the same time, other items are dubious, including weapons systems that are plagued with operational problems and extravagant and rising costs (e.g., F-35 fight jet, missile defense programs. And the estimated cost of $1.5 trillion or more over 30 years to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal is fueling a new cold war with Russia. And, not the least, the increases in the military budget along with the Republican tax cuts will raise the federal deficit almost twofold to about $1.20 trillion in 2019.
The rationale for increasing the funding for the already massive military spending
There are two recent government documents that give us some idea of what the generals and their advisers at the Pentagon have in mind for how they want to “defend” the nation against foreign threats, state and non-state actors alike, in the near term and for the foreseeable future. The first and more comprehensive of the two documents is the Department of Defense’s “Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America. The 11-page document was released on January 19, 2018. You can find a declassified copy of it at: https://www.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf. The second document is the Nuclear Posture Review, which focuses on U.S. nuclear policy and plans to “modernize” the nuclear arsenal. You’ll need to google for a copy, though you can find the “executive summary” at: https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872877/-1/-1/1/EXECUTIVE-SUMMARY.PDF
It went into full effect on February 5, 2018.
The 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS)
The principal justifications for the large increase in military spending are that the U.S. now faces a growing number of enemies, while the “competitive military advantage” of U.S. forces is “eroding” and consequently must be enhanced and modernized to meet the new national security challenges. If the military does not undergo the improvements that are necessary, then, according to the NDS, not only will America’s national security be compromised but the country’s prosperity will be undermined as access to foreign markets and resources are curtailed. Here are the highlights of the NDS.
#1 – The proliferation of enemies
The central point of the NDS is that there is a proliferation of enemies that threaten America’s national security. Russia and China are said to pose a particularly great and growing threat to U.S. geopolitical and military dominance around the world, with the implication that we are now engaged in a new cold war of arms escalation and increasing threats of war. The document describes China and Russia in the most diabolical terms, devoid of context and historical background, implying that a buttressed U.S. military force is the principal, if not the only, way that their aggressive international machinations can be deterred and contained.
“China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors.”
“The Central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security is the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by what the National Security Strategy classifies as revisionist powers. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nation’s economic, diplomatic, and security decisions.”
“China is leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage. As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future. The most far-reaching objective of this defense strategy is to set the military relationship between our two countries on a path of transparency and non-aggression.”
“…Russia seeks veto authority over nations on its periphery in terms of their governmental, economic, and diplomatic decisions, to shatter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and change European and Middle East security and economic structures to its favor. The use of emerging technologies to discredit and subvert democratic processes in Georgia, Crimea, and eastern Ukraine is concern enough, but when coupled with its expanding and modernizing nuclear arsenal the challenge is clear.”
There are plenty of other enemies identified by the DNS such as North Korea, Iran, and ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue to despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.”
“Terrorists, trans-national criminal organizations, cyber hackers and other malicious non-state actors have transformed global affairs with increased capabilities of mass disruption…. Terrorism remains a persistent condition driven by ideology and unstable political and economic structures, despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate.”
#2 – America is increasingly vulnerable to attack
The following quotes from the Strategy say it all: “the homeland is no longer a sanctuary…. whether from terrorists seeking to attack our citizens; malicious cyber activity against personal, commercial, or government infrastructure; or political and information subversion. New threats to commercial and military uses of space are emerging, while increasing digital connectivity of all aspects of life, business, government, and military create significant vulnerabilities.” And the former U.S. military advantage is being challenged and no longer enjoys “uncontested and dominant superiority in every operating domain,” air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.
#3 – The economic consequences IF U.S. military power is insufficiently bolstered.
“Failure to meet our defense objectives will result in decreasing U.S. global influence, eroding cohesion among allies and partners, and reduced access to markets that will contribute to a decline in our prosperity and standard of living. Without sustained and predictable investment to restore readiness and modernize our military to make it fit for our time, we will rapidly lose our military advantage, resulting in a Joint Force that has legacy systems irrelevant to the defense of our people”.
#4 – There has to be a multi-faceted “strategic approach” to rebuilding U.S. military power.
Most importantly, according to the DNS, the U.S. must build a more lethal military force to support our national security objectives. On this point, the NDS document argues:
“The size of our force matters. The Nation must field sufficient, capable forces to defeat enemies and achieve sustainable outcomes that protect the American people and our vital interests.” All branches of the military must be better funded, prepared for war, modernized in “key capabilities,” innovatively organized regarding command structures and the deployment of forces, prioritizing capacity and capabilities for major combat, and developing an effective global model for “how the Joint Force will be postured and employed to achieve its competition and wartime missions.”
What a critic of the NDS says, capturing many of the concerns being advanced
Robert L. Borosage pens an incisive critique of the NDS for The Nation magazine on January 25, calling it clearly as it is a plan for never-ending war against an ever-growing number of enemies (http://thenation.com/articles/the-pentagons-plan-for-never-ending-war).
Borosage is skeptical that China and Russia pose the great threats to U.S. national security that are described in the NDS and writes this:
“Russia, a decrepit and aging petrostate, isn’t a model for anyone. Its truculence comes in no small part in reaction to our relentless push to extend NATO to its very borders, despite pledges not to do so. China, in contrast, is already a global economic power, offering a model of authoritarian, mercantilist state capitalism. US global corporations and our trade policies fueled its rise, helping it become the world’s manufacturing center. Its influence will inevitably expand; it has the money.”
Whether Borosage underestimates the power of Russia and China in challenging U.S. dominance in the global system or not, the NDS offers the wrong, counterproductive solutions. Instead of increasing the military budget year in and year out, there is an alternative reflected in the long-standing consensus on the political left and among peace groups that there should be much more emphasis on diplomacy, a lessening of the expansion of the U.S. military forces on the borders of these two countries, and a resumption of nuclear arms reductions negotiations.
Borosage makes another important point. He argues that we cannot afford to pay for a military force that is designed to deter and fight wars all over the world. He calls it an imperialist enterprise, that is, that at bottom it is about protecting and advancing U.S. economic interests and less about national security in a military sense and less about finding fair and cooperative relations with especially “developing” countries.
“As if tackling two superpowers wasn’t enough, the Defense Department also plans to counter rogue regimes, ‘defeat terrorist threats to the United States, and consolidate our gains [sic] in Iraq and Afghanistan while moving to a more resource sustainable approach.’ The military will also ‘sustain favorable regional balances of power in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and the Western Hemisphere,’ and ‘address significant terrorist threats in Africa.’”
“This is the imperial view of a global power committed to defending “order” across the globe, a mission beyond the reach and the capacity of even the wealthiest nation and its allies. The NDS acknowledged the need for ‘difficult choices’ to ‘prioritize what is most important,’ but that is exactly what the document does not provide.”
The recent history of U.S. military interventions does not give one reason to be sanguine about the prospects for a national defense strategy that relies less on “lethal force” or one that searches for ways to reconcile international differences and conflicts through non-military means. There is another important fact about the U.S. government’s heavy reliance on military force, that is, the U.S. has not been successful in its pursuit of military solutions. Historian Andrew J. Bacevich has documented this sorry story in his many articles and in a recent book, America’s War For The Greater Middle East. An editor of the Bacevich book writes:
“From the Balkans and East Africa to the Persian Gulf and Central Asia, U.S. forces embarked upon a seemingly endless series of campaigns across the Islamic world. Few achieved anything remotely like conclusive success. Instead, actions undertaken with expectations of promoting peace and stability produced just the opposite.”
Borosage echoes this view and writes that the U.S. military has fought in more places over the course of this century than any country in history. The government has spent trillions of dollars “killing uncounted thousands of people, rained bombs from drones on people in increasing numbers of countries, overthrown governments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and dispatched special forces to nearly three-fourths of the countries of the world (149 and counting). And yet, NDS argues, we face an ever-more threatening and dangerous world.” It is incredulous, Borosage contends, that more weapons and troops will change this record of unsuccess. If we continue the same path, building an ever-larger and more lethal military force, there is no reason to expect that the results will be any different. He sums up well what he fears the consequences will be.
“What we are left with is truly dangerous to our security. The military will be tasked with missions it cannot fulfill. It will get more money, but not nearly enough. Real security threats will continue to be ignored [e.g. climate change]. Billions will be wasted on baroque weaponry, while vital domestic investments are starved. The nuclear arms race will be revived. American lives will be lost in wars that continue endlessly, with the United States unwilling to lose and unable to win. We will spend more and more on the Pentagon and find ourselves growing less and less secure. We desperately need a new real security strategy, and a revolt against endless war to give it traction.”
Note: This ends Part 2 of the post on “the military-industrial complex grows.” In Part 3, the last on this topic of the military-industrial complex grows, I’ll focus on the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, what it calls for, and reasons to oppose it.