Smart Defense

Last month, Congressman Barney Frank called for a 25 percent cut in the defense budget--approximately $150 billion in annual spending--saying, "We don't need all these fancy new weapons. I think there needs to be additional review."

Predictably, the Republican backlash was swift. House Minority Leader John Boehner called Frank "incredibly irresponsible." House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee ranking member John McHugh (R-NY) labeled the proposed reduction "unconscionable." Democrats--especially those on the House Armed Services Committee --didn't exactly embrace Frank's target, either.

But Congressman Frank isn't backing down. In an e-mail to me yesterday he wrote, "Much of the reduction will come from ending the war in Iraq and from cutting unneeded weapons systems. I believe that it's appropriate to reduce defense spending, and this is a goal I wanted to set. I don't have specific details at this point, but I will be working with my colleagues to identify weapons systems that we can reduce, and I also want to look at drawing down the number of our overseas bases."

Even a senior Pentagon advisory group--the Defense Business Board --recently concluded that the current budget is "not sustainable." And according to the Boston Globe, "Pentagon insiders and defense budget specialists say the Pentagon has been on a largely unchecked spending spree since 2001 that will prove politically difficult to curtail but nevertheless must be reined in."

The current budget allots over $500 billion to defense, and an
additional $200 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a
recent editorial
in the New York Times tells us, the budget is "nearly equal to all of
the rest of the world's defense budgets combined." It represents 57
of the total discretionary budget.

In Unified Security Budget for the United States, FY 2009, research fellow Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies, and former US Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, outline not only cuts that
need to be made to implement a sane defense budget, but also the shift
in priorities required to confront the real security challenges of the
21st century. The Unified Security Budget (USB) pulls "together in one
place US spending on all of its security tools: tools of offense (military forces), defense (homeland security) and prevention (non-military international engagement.) This tool would make it easier for Congress to consider overall security spending priorities and the best allocation of them."

In a recent DefenseNewsop-ed, Pemberton and Korb write: "The balance between our spending on military forces and other security tools--like diplomacy, nonproliferation,
foreign aid and homeland security--needs to change."

For example, the USB demonstrates that forgoing the scheduled increase
in the troubled F-22 fighter jet for FY 2008--$800 million--would be
sufficient to triple the amount spent on debt cancellation in the
world's poorest countries. Or increase by 50 percent US contributions to
international peacekeeping operations. Or triple the amount allocated in
FY 2007 for domestic rail and transit security programs.

Along the same lines, canceling the Bush administration's initiative to
build offensive space weapons could provide the $800 million needed to
double the originally requested annual budget for the State Department's
Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization.

The report offers $56 billion in cuts to spending on offensive weapons,
and $50 billion in new expenditures on defense and prevention. It
transforms the Bush administration's 9:1 ratio of spending on offense as
compared to defense and prevention, to 5:1. According to the report,
"This budget would emphasize working with international partners to
resolve conflicts and tackle looming human security problems like
climate change; preventing the spread of nuclear materials by means
other than regime change; and addressing the root causes of terrorism,
while protecting the homeland against it."

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and its Foreign Policy In Focus
(FPIF) network of progressive experts also released a report last year--
Just Security--which details how $213 billion could be cut from US military
spending. Even with this cut the US would retain the largest military in
the world and spend over eight times more than any of the next largest

Look for an inside-outside strategy to reframe the debate on the defense
budget to emerge in the coming weeks. This week, the new American
Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation
(of which I'm a board member) will coordinate a meeting between progressive thinkers like Pemberton and members of the Progressive Caucus to discuss the issue of unsustainable defense spending,
alternatives to the status quo, and tactics and strategies on how to win
this debate.

Progressives are under no illusions as to the obstacles to making a real
and meaningful shift in the way the US approaches the defense budget.
As Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at
the Center for Defense Information told the Globe, "The forces arrayed
against terminating defense programs are today so powerful that if you
try to do that it will be like the British Army at the Somme in World
War I. You will just get mowed down by the defense industry and
military services' machine guns." Or, as even the Bush Administration's
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said of the scant resources devoted to the diplomatic corps as compared to military equipment, "Diplomacy simply does not have the built-in,
domestic constituency of defense programs."

With increased public awareness of the misplaced priorities of the past
eight years--runaway defense spending being no exception--and the
growing demands and dangers of our cratering economy and broken
healthcare system, now is the moment for citizens to seize and organize
around an alternative vision that reflects our determined idealism and
grounded realism.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Nation