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The Progressive

Stop Wasting on the Military

The global arms madness continues.

A new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (one of my favorite think tanks) confirms that worldwide military expenditure is again on the up and up, with spending having increased by 4 percent in 2008.

“All regions and subregions have seen significant increases since 1999, except for Western and Central Europe,” says the report (available at

The United States loomed large over all other countries, with a whopping $607 billion swallowed up by the military in 2008, nearly 10 percent more than the previous year. And SIPRI is being very conservative here, because the total U.S. expenditure was roughly $1 trillion when you add military-related costs that are not in the Pentagon budget. (See my column)

Sadly, the change of Administration has not reversed the trend. The Obama Administration has asked for $663 billion for the military for fiscal year 2010, including supplemental funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Although some wasteful big-ticket boondoggles have been cut and the budget is more transparently honest, the Pentagon is still being showered with money, even in our current parlous economic condition. Plus, President Obama has appealed for an additional $83.4 billion for fiscal year 2009 for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bizarrely enough, some of the U.S. media coverage of the SIPRI report has been focused on the faster increase in Chinese military spending. Duh: It’s called playing catch up. The United States accounts for nearly half of global military spending, and China’s double-digit increase was only slightly more than that of the United States. The U.S.-China rivalry is a strategic game about who can project power most forcefully. And, here, the United States has, by far, the upper hand.


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The section of the SIPRI report that gave me the biggest heartburn was the one on international arms transfers. The United States, Russia, Germany, France and United Kingdom continued their gleeful dominance of the arms racket, while China and India, oblivious to the needs of their people, were the biggest importers of weapons.

“Together [the top five arms exporters] accounted for 79 per cent of the volume of exports for 2004–2008,” SIPRI states. “They have been the top five suppliers since the end of the cold war and have accounted for at least three-quarters of all exports annually.”

Boeing, BAE Systems (British), Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon were the largest producers of death, with arms profits for Boeing itself topping $4 billion. U.S. companies have almost a monopoly on the production of weapons in the big leagues, with almost two-thirds of the total arms manufactures of the top 100 companies being U.S. based.

Perhaps my all-time favorite quotation is by General Dwight David Eisenhower. (I even have a T-shirt with the first sentence printed on it.):

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”

This is such a simple, graspable truth that it penetrated the consciousness of even a career military man like Ike. What will it take for the current crop of leaders around the world to comprehend it?

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal

Amitabh Pal is managing editor of The Progressive. He has interviewed the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev, Jimmy Carter and John Kenneth Galbraith for the magazine.

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