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Hellman and Kramer: How Much Does Washington Spend on "Defense"?

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three days a week, click here .

As the country's big wars on the Eurasian continent wind down, American war-making and war preparations fly ever more regularly under the radar.  There has, for instance, been much discussion about the Obama administration's policy "pivot" to Asia -- the only warlike act in the region so far has, however, been a little noted drone strike in the Philippines.  At the same time, remarkably little attention has been paid to a massive build-up of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, and -- though both seem to be underway (and connected) -- who talks about the "pivot" to the Western Indian Ocean or the "pivot" to Africa?

For those keeping a careful eye out, U.S. drone (and air) bases in the region have been proliferating -- in the Seychelles Islands, in Ethiopia, and at an unidentified site on the Arabian peninsula, among other places.  Recently, however, Wired's Danger Room website reported that an Italian blogger had put the pieces together and offered impressive evidence of a larger war-making effort in the region, involving not only drones but F-15E fighter jets, possibly being used to bomb Yemen. Meanwhile, there are U.S. drone strikes in Yemen almost daily and at least 20 special forces operatives are reportedly now on the ground there, helping direct some of the fighting and even taking casualties

Meanwhile, the U.S. Africa Command (Africom), set up in 2007, has been gaining clout.  In 2011, 100 special operations troops, mainly Green Berets, were moved into Central Africa, officially to aid in the hunting down of Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army.  Recently, it was reported that a brigade of regular U.S. combat troops will soon be assigned to the command and given training duties throughout the region. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been organizing a proxy war, supported by drone attacks, against al-Shabab rebels in Somalia, using Ugandan, Kenyan, and other African troops as those proxies.  And more's afoot.  It's just that, if you weren't an obsessive news watcher, you would have next to no way of knowing that any of this was taking place.     

War American-style, already long detached from the lives of most Americans, is growing more so: ever more secret, presidential, and beyond the control of, or accountability to, citizens or Congress.  In only one way is this not true: we taxpayers still fork over the massive sums that make our perpetual state of war and war state possible.  As Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer of the invaluable National Priorities Project report, the expense of all this is blowing a hole in your wallet and our treasury.  To offer but one small example, if someday soon the Pakistani/Afghan border is reopened to U.S. war supplies, you will be paying the Pakistanis $1,500-$1,800 for every truck that crosses it, at an estimated cost of at least $1 million a day (with other "fees" likely).  And yet, it's remarkable how little Americans know about what's coming out of their pockets when the subject is "national security," or where exactly it's all going. Which is why we need Hellman and Kramer (and their new book, A People's Guide to the Federal Budget) to keep us in the loop.  Tom

War Pay
The Nearly $1 Trillion National Security Budget

By Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer

Recent months have seen a flurry of headlines about cuts (often called "threats") to the U.S. defense budget. Last week, lawmakers in the House of Representatives even passed a bill that was meant to spare national security spending from future cuts by reducing school-lunch funding and other social programs.  

Here, then, is a simple question that, for some curious reason, no one bothers to ask, no less answer: How much are we spending on national security these days? With major wars winding down, has Washington already cut such spending so close to the bone that further reductions would be perilous to our safety?

In fact, with projected cuts added in, the national security budget in fiscal 2013 will be nearly $1 trillion -- a staggering enough sum that it's worth taking a walk through the maze of the national security budget to see just where that money's lodged.

If you've heard a number for how much the U.S. spends on the military, it's probably in the neighborhood of $530 billion. That's the Pentagon's base budget for fiscal 2013, and represents a 2.5% cut from 2012. But that $530 billion is merely the beginning of what the U.S. spends on national security. Let's dig a little deeper.

The Pentagon's base budget doesn't include war funding, which in recent years has been well over $100 billion. With U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq and troop levels falling in Afghanistan, you might think that war funding would be plummeting as well.  In fact, it will drop to a mere $88 billion in fiscal 2013. By way of comparison, the federal government will spend around $64 billion on education that same year.

Add in war funding, and our national security total jumps to $618 billion. And we're still just getting started.

The U.S. military maintains an arsenal of nuclear weapons. You might assume that we've already accounted for nukes in the Pentagon's $530 billion base budget.  But you'd be wrong. Funding for nuclear weapons falls under the Department of Energy (DOE), so it's a number you rarely hear. In fiscal 2013, we'll be spending $11.5 billion on weapons and related programs at the DOE. And disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, so add another $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup.

Now, we're at $636 billion and counting.

How about homeland security? We've got to figure that in, too. There's the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will run taxpayers $35.5 billion for its national security activities in fiscal 2013. But there's funding for homeland security squirreled away in just about every other federal agency as well.  Think, for example, about programs to secure the food supply, funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So add another $13.5 billion for homeland security at federal agencies other than DHS.

That brings our total to $685 billion.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more...)
 

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For less money than now spent on militarism, the U... by Vernon Huffman on Tuesday, May 22, 2012 at 10:51:06 AM