Even though Congress is moving to raise the Pentagon budget far beyond the astronomical levels proposed in the Biden administration’s proposal, a new reportThe Congressional Budget Office has presented three options to cut $1 trillion in Department of Defense expenditures over the next ten years. While a rational defense policy could yield much more in terms of reductions than the Pentagon, weapons contractors, or their many allies in Congress, resistance from them and their many allies would be fierce.
After all, in its consideration of the bill that authorizes such budget levels for next year, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives recently voted to add $25 billionTo the already astounding $750 billionThe Pentagon and related work at the Department of Energy on nuclear weapons was requested by the Biden administration. By any measure, that’s an astonishing figure, given that the request itself was already far higher than spending at the peaks of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup of the 1980s.
In any reasonable world, such a military budget should be considered both unaffordable and deeply unsuitable when it comes to addressing the true threats to this country’s “defense,” including cyberattacks, pandemics, and the devastationAlready climate change is causing havoc. Worst of all, providing a blank check to the military-industrial-congressional complex ensures the continued production of troubled weapon systems like Lockheed Martin’s exorbitantly expensive F-35 Joint Strike FighterThis is a common problem as it is often late and far beyond the projected costs. However, it is still considered to be effective in combat.
Changing course would mean real reform and genuine accountability, starting with serious cuts to a budget for which “bloated” is far too kind an adjective.
Three Options for Reductions
The CBO came up with three ways to cut approximately $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget. This was at the request of Senator Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT). It could not have been a more modest proposal historically. The Pentagon budget actually fell by the absence of such a plan. 30%Between 1988 and 1997
This CBO-style reduction would still leave a department with approximately $6.3 trillion to spend over that 10-year period, 80% more than the cost of President Biden’s original $3.5 trillionThe Build Back Better proposal is for domestic investments. This figure, however, is significantly lower than the Pentagon budget. whittled down to half its original size, thanks to laughable claims by “moderate” Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that it would break the bank in Washington. Yet such critics of expanded social and economic programs rarely offer similar thoughts when it comes to the Pentagon’s far larger bite of the budgetary pie.
The options in the budget watchdog’s new report are anything but radical:
Option one would preserve the “current post-Cold War strategy of deterring aggression through [the] threat of immediate U.S. military response with the objectives of denying an adversary’s gains and recapturing lost territory.” The proposed cuts would hit each military service equally, with some new weapons programs slowed down and a few, as in the case of the B-21 bomber, cancelled.
Option two “adopts a Cold War-like strategy for large nuclear powers of making aggression very costly and recognizing that the size of conventional conflict would be limited by the threat of a nuclear response.” That leaves nearly $2 trillion for the Pentagon’s planned “modernization”The U.S. nuclear arsenal will remain unaffected, but the strategy relies more heavily on cooperation with allies in conventional war situations. It could mean that large numbers of military personnel might take longer to deploy to conflict zones.
Option three “de-emphasizes use of U.S. military force in regional conflicts in favor of preserving U.S. control of the global commons (sea, air, space, and the Arctic), ensuring open access to the commons for allies and unimpeded global commerce.” In other words, Afghan- or Iraq-style boots-on-the-ground U.S. interventions would largely be avoided in favor of the use of long-range and “over-the-horizon” weapons like drones, naval blockades, the enforcement of no-fly zones, and the further arming and training of allies.
However, it is worth looking at the larger question of what will make the world safer in these times of climate change, pandemics, and racial injustice. economic inequality, reductions well beyond the $1 trillion figure embedded in the CBO’s recommendations would be both necessary and possible in a more reasonable American world. The CBO’s scenarios remain focused on military methods for solving security problems, assuring an all-too-narrow view of what might be saved by a new approach to security.
The CBO, for instance, chose not to look at possible savings from simply scaling back (not even ending) the Pentagon’s $2-trillionThree-decade-old plan to build a new generation nuclear-armed missiles and bombers, submarines, and bombers. Reducing such a buildup, that will only further threaten this planet, would easily save more than $100 billionOver the next decade.
Adopting the nuclear sanity principle would be a significant step in the right direction. alternative nuclear postureGlobal Zero proposed the following. That would involve the elimination of all land-based nuclear missiles and rely instead on a smaller force of ballistic missile submarines and bombers as part of a “deterrence-only” strategy.
The accuracy of land-based, intercontinental missiles was confirmed described by former Secretary of Defense William Perry as “some of the most dangerous weapons in the world.” The reason: a president would have only a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch them upon being warned of an oncoming nuclear attack by an enemy power. This would increase the risk of accidental nuclear war and possibly the destruction of the planet due to false alarms, which have happened in the past. severalIn the past It would be safer for the world to eliminate such missiles. saving tens of billions of dollarsDuring this process.
Most people think of the Pentagon budget as what it spends on new guns and ships, planes, missiles, and other equipment. However, services account for about half of what it purchases each year. These are the contracts that go to various corporate “Beltway bandits” to consult with the military or perform jobs that could often be done more cheaply by federal employees. Both the Defense Business BoardThe Pentagon’s own cost estimating officeWe have identified service contracting to be an area with significant savings potential.
The Pentagon spent almost $204 billion last year on various service contracts. That’s more than the budgets for the Departments of Health and Human Services. State, or Homeland Security. Even a 15% reduction in contractor spending would instantly save billions annually.
Congress and the Pentagon have demonstrated in the past that such savings can be easily realized. For example, provisionIn 2011, a defense law only capped such spending at 2010 levels. It was shown that the government spending data showed that it was actually reduced in the end. $42 billionOver four years.
Closing Unneeded Bases
The Biden administration is trying to increase domestic infrastructure spending. However, the Pentagon is desperate to get rid of costly and unneeded military facilities. Both the Obama and Trump administrations asked Congress to authorize another round of what’s called base realignment and closure to help the Defense Department get rid of its excess capacity. According to the Pentagon, it could save approximately $1.6 billion. $2 billionThis is what we do each year.
CBO’s report, cited above, explicitly excludes cost savings that are politically impossible due to the current Congress. This would be a sensible way to go, considering the many ways that climate change will threaten existing military bases arrangements both domestically and internationally.
Another CBO report warns that the future effects of climate change — from rising sea levels (and flooding coastlines) to ever more powerful storms — will both reduce the government’s revenue and increase its mandatory spending, if its base situation remains as it is now. There are already more hurricanes and stronger tropical storms than ever before, and there is also rising flooding. billions of dollarsin damage to military bases. Meanwhile, it’s estimated that, in the decades to come, more than 1,700 U.S. military installationsSea-level rise could have an impact on the world. Future rounds of base closures, both domestically and globally, should be planned with climate change in mind.
Turning Around Congress, Fighting Off Lobbyists
The bipartisan majority in Congress has not been able to agree on how to increase Pentagon spending. This was evident by the House’s decision to add $25 Billion to the Pentagon budget request Fiscal Year 2022. The Senate version includes a similar measure, which it will soon debate. There are some glimmers for hope in the horizon, as the number members of Congress who are willing to oppose this long-standing practice, which is essentially funneling more funds at the Pentagon without asking questions, is increasing.
For example, a majorityA majority of Democrats and House leadership members supported a provision that would have withdrawn some of the Pentagon’s excess funds this year, but it was ultimately defeated. A smaller group voted to cut the department’s budget across the board by 10%. This was a number that was unimaginable just a few decades ago. As non-military risks like climate change, pandemics, and the financial consequences of racial/economic injustice replace traditional military threats, this core group will only continue to grow.
Opposition to increasing Pentagon spending is also growing outside Washington. An ever wider rangeA majority of conservative and progressive organizations support significant cuts in the Pentagon budget. However, the challenge is to translate such sentiments to a multifaceted campaign for public pressure that will drive a majority members of Congress from giving the Pentagon a yearly blank cheque. A new pollThe Eurasia Group Foundation found twice as many Americans now support cutting Pentagon budgets than they support increasing them.
Any attempt to reduce Pentagon spending will be met with resistance from an incredibly powerful arms industry, which uses lobbyists, campaign contributions, and promises of defense-related employment to keep the budgets high. In this century alone, more than $1 trillion has been spent by the Pentagon. $14 trillionUp to half of this amount has gone to contractors. The arms industry has experienced a steady growth in the past few years. spent$285 million was spent on campaign contributions, and $2.5 billion on lobbying. The majority of the money went to members of the armed forces and defense appropriations commissions who decide how much money the country spends on military purposes.
The arms industry’s lobbying efforts are especially insidious. On average, it employs around 2,000 people per year. 700 lobbyistsThere are more than one for every member in Congress. The top five corporate weapons manufacturers were awarded an award return of $1,909They received taxpayer funds for every dollar spent on lobbying. Most of their lobbyists once worked in the Pentagon or Congress and arrived in the world of arms contractors via the infamous “revolving door.” Of course, they then used their relationships with their former colleagues in government to curry favor for their corporate employers. A 2018 investigationProject On Government Oversight revealed that 380 Pentagon officials and military officers were made lobbyists, board members or executives by weapons contractors within the first two years of their departure from their government jobs.
A September 2021 study from the Government Accountability Office foundAs of 2019, the top 14 arms contractors had more than 1,700 former military and Pentagon civilian employees. This includes many who were involved in the making or enforcement of the rules for major weapon systems.
The revolving door spins both ways, with executives and board members of the major weapons makers moving into powerful senior positions in government where they’re well situated to help their former (and, more than likely, future) employers. The process begins at the top. Four of the past fiveThe secretaries of defense were also executives, lobbyists, board members, or board members at Raytheon, Boeing, and General Dynamics. These are the top five weapon makers that receive billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts each year. Both the House SenateVersions of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act increase the time that people who come from these industries can withdraw from any decisions involving their former companies. As long as the Pentagon continues plucking officials from the very organizations driving these exploding funds, we should all be more or less aware of what to expect.
So far, the system is working — if you happen to be an arms contractor. The top five weapon companies split$166 billion in Pentagon contracts for Fiscal Year 2020, which is well above one-third of all those issued by the Department of Defense in that year. To give you some sense of the scale of all this — and our government’s twisted priorities — Lockheed Martin alone receivedFiscal Year 2020: Pentagon contracts worth $75 billion, almost one-half of the amount $52.5 billionAllotted for the Agency for International Development and the State Department.
Which Way Forward?
The Congressional Budget Office’s new report charts a path toward a more rational approach to Pentagon spending, but the $1 trillion in savings it proposes should only be a starting point. Hundreds of billions more could be saved over the next decade by reassessing our national security strategy, cutting back the Pentagon’s nuclear buildup, capping its use of private contractors, and scaling back the colossal sums of waste, fraud, and abuse baked into its budget. All of these could be done while making America and the world safer by shifting funds to address non-military risk that threatens the future of humanity.
It remains to be seen if our leaders can meet the challenges today or continue to succumb the power of arms lobby.