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According to a reliable online information source , the U.S. accounted for 37 percent, or about $592 billion, of the more than $1.6 trillion in world military spending in 2015. (See https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/us-military-spending-vs-world/). That outlay amounts to roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets combined. (On September 11, 2017, a new defense spending authorization bill calling for a budget of $692 billion in fiscal year 2018 was introduced into the U.S. Senate.) Moreover, it has been estimated that overall annual U.S. military spending is actually about $1 trillion, when funding is counted not only for the Pentagon but for Homeland Security and other related government departments and agencies. In addition, the U.S. has spent approximately $2 trillion in direct costs for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That figure is itself raised to an estimated $6 trillion when indirect expenditures are added--such as future care of veterans and lost domestic investment opportunities.
If those dollars were made available instead for investments to meet the direct needs of people, a substantial portion could be used in our own country to help adequately fund two important projects: the long-neglected rebuilding of our crumbling physical infrastructure, and systematic progress toward a more cost-effective and environmentally-healthy green economy. Besides making life better for everyone, both investments would generate millions of new, good-paying jobs. Other diverted defense dollars could be used to fund projects abroad that help meet the basic needs of underdeveloped countries--such as food, clean water, medicine, agriculture, sustainable energy, and education. Those initiatives could greatly enhance the American image with the people of those countries, and, by providing young males a basis of hope for the future, reduce the allure of political extremism and help ease the threats to our own country posed by international terrorism.
The diversion of defense funds to meet human needs would also eliminate two deleterious characteristics of the war industry:
-- It is economically unfair. It shuttles public funds into increasingly privatized industries, which are subject to little public accounting and tend to place huge profits in the hands of corporate owners and directors.
-- It endangers both the environment and human survival. The U.S., with only 5% of the world's population, consumes a quarter to a third of the world's oil and other natural resources--much of it needed for war-making. This rate of consumption will ruin the earth's climate and ecosystems long before its supply of fossil fuels and other natural resources are exhausted. Moreover, we can't in any case continue to make use of the weapons produced by the war industry to further our exploitation of the natural resources of foreign lands. If we accept the scientific consensus that global warming is real and produced by human activity, our survival depends on a shift to renewable energy, or on the use of less energy. And that depends in turn on investing public funds now wasted on the preparation for war in efforts to find clean-energy solutions.
A Decline in War Spending Is Also a First Step Toward Peace and the End of War
Another potential benefit of U.S. demilitarization is suggested by the results of a global survey conducted by WIN/Gallup International and released in 2014. In a poll of residents in 68 countries, 24 percent of the countries ranked the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace. The U.S. ranking was followed by Pakistan at 8 percent, China at 6 percent, and four countries (Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, and North Korea) tied at 5 percent. (See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/greatest-threat-world-peace-country_n_4531824.html.)
Given this highly disproportionate fear of U.S. aggression, a demonstrated U.S. commitment to demilitarization might well trigger a reverse arms race by nations throughout the world. This is the more likely, because no other countries (and that includes Russia!) are aggressively seeking to maintain a global empire, and therefore probably maintain a military establishment only for reasons of defense and/or national pride. In the absence of an American threat, such nations might be only too happy to divert funds now spent on defense to investments that develop their own economic strength and meet other needs of their population. To make that possible, they could then seek to negotiate legally-binding bilateral or multilateral agreements for gradual disarmament.
If such a course were pursued, it is highly probable that, among nuclear states, including the U.S., nuclear weapons--the most dangerous, costly, and least likely to be used of all weapons--would be the first to go. That result would not only finally put an end to a now seven-decades-old nuclear nightmare, but encourage consideration of further benefits that can be obtained by the elimination of all weapons of war.
From the standpoint of physical security, the most important benefit of disarmament would be a massive reduction in the use of climate-damaging fossil fuels. To recap three points made earlier: 1) The development, testing, and use of military weapons consume vast amounts of fossil fuels. 2) Gaining or maintaining access to oil resources from which the fossil fuels derive can be a significant factor in instigating war. And 3) The U.S. Department of Defense is the biggest single consumer of fossil fuels in the world. In light of these realities, Americans need to ask themselves two questions: Why should we continue an institution of mass killing in order to maintain access to natural resources that will ruin the earth if war doesn't destroy it first? And, if we are going to adequately counter climate change and environmental collapse, aren't we going to need the nearly $2 trillion a year the world now spends on preparing for war?
A shift in public spending from war to peace could also promote unprecedented international cooperation in helping to meet the real needs of people around the world. Here are some ideas I've picked up in my research:
- By diverting $500 billion of the roughly $1 trillion we now spend annually on war to meet the real needs of Americans, we could end college debt, provide housing for everyone, rebuild our physical infrastructure, and fund sustainable green energy and agricultural practices.
- With the other $500 billion, we could provide the world with food and water, green energy, infrastructure, topsoil preservation, environmental protection, schools, medicine, cultural exchange programs, and the study of peace and non-violent conflict resolution.