13 November 2011: Smart Security or Dumb Dollar$?
The urgent need for U.S. budget priorities to shift from war to peace was the theme of the Thirty-Second Annual Conference of the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) on the Princeton University Campus today.
Among the featured speakers were Dr. Gordon Adams, a professor of foreign policy at American University who worked as a senior advisor to the president on national security and foreign policy, and Judith LeBlanc, National Field Director of Peace Action and former national co-chair of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).
A resident of Washington, DC, Adams (pictured above) spoke of his hometown as a "puzzle palace" faced with two major issues at a crucial point in history he referred to as an "inflection point": correct budget allocations and appropriate relations with the rest of the world.
"We can no longer afford what we're doing here and in the rest of the world," he said.
$30 bn to $60 bn of military funding has mysteriously disappeared from military funds, unaccounted for.
The good news is that we're ending one war and winding down on another; our economic focus should not be the deficit but jobs. U.S. entitlements have grown from $6 tn to $12 tn in the previous ten years.
Our attitude toward the military, in a complete about-face from the nineteen seventies, is overly fearful and reverent. At the same time, national security ranks only number ten in a list of priorities measured by a Gallup poll from a sampling of Americans. Money, jobs, and health care are far more important to us today.
As to the Supercommittee, their nervously awaited decision is really meaningless and completely subject to the whims of Congress and will not be enforceable until January 2013 anyway--and we all know what major event happens before that.
Adams called the committee's decision process an "Indonesian Shadow Play," that is, two-dimensional puppets as pantomiming silhouettes behind backlit white cloth.
Military spending was cut every twenty years most recently: in the decades following 1950, 1970, and 1990--each time the budget was slashed by 30 percent; now that 2010 has arrived, a little "push" is needed, said Adams. Leon Pannetta, Secretary of Defense, is worried about the loss of $450 bn, 8 percent of the projected military budget.
Military budgeting aside, the second important aspect of this inflection point in time is how to engage with the world. We have a unique opportunity to rethink this relationship. There is no longer a need to "reset" our weaponry--it is entirely up-to-date and in good condition and sufficiently diversified.
Will money saved on this aspect of our national security be redirected to the needs of the people at home? A substantial percentage of our military are noncombatants "running the back office," as Adams put it--there is a 33 percent overhead.
In 1989, at the end of the Cold War, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell cut military forces by fifty thousand; throughout the following decade, 700,000 military troops were cut, as were 300,000 from civil service.
In the District of Columbia, said the professor, the U.S. is said to "shape" the world, as its "system administrator." The world is our "global commons." Are we indispensable? We must rethink this issue. Two points have made it to the table: 1) "coin," that is "counterinsurgency," which justifies our nearly ubiquitous presence in so many troubled areas around the world; and 2) $30 bn is spent annually on our nuclear armaments, the number of which must be reduced to zero.
"What do we need a military for?" he challenged us. Think about it.
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