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Today, TomDispatch regulars and Pentagon experts William Hartung and Mandy Smithberger consider the way the funding of the U.S. military and the industrial complex that goes with it has headed for what used to be called "the wild blue yonder." After all, it's just about the only thing a Congress that can't otherwise seem to reach an accord agrees about.
In a strange sense, given our intensifying new Cold War with China, something else seems to be threatening to go wild as well. There's clearly a new arms race brewing with hypersonic missiles at its heart. Only the other day, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, raised a warning flag about a reputed Chinese test of just such a potential weapon. "I don't know," he said ominously, "if it's quite a Sputnik moment, but I think it's very close to that."
Uh-oh, shades of the previous Cold War with the Soviet Union! And how convenient for the nation that funds its military at levels commensurate with the next 11 countries combined. After all, the Afghan War is in the garbage can and the rest of our "forever wars" are seemingly in the rear-view mirror. Yet that military certainly needs something and some enemy to justify the continued pumping up of its budget to stratospheric levels. So, now the head of the Joint Chiefs is hyping (if you'll excuse the pun) the dangers of Chinese hypersonic weaponry, even as this country pours billions of dollars into just such experimental missiles itself, while engaging in a multi-decade, $2 trillion "modernization" of its already gargantuan nuclear arsenal.
God forbid that unlike in the previous Cold War (and even with Russia today) there would be any discussions with the Chinese about putting a lid on the global nuclear threat or on a new arms race on Planet Earth. Heavens no! Which is why it's so important for Hartung and Smithberger to explore the possibilities available to us today when it comes to putting a lid on that stratospheric military budget of ours. Tom
Reining in the Pentagon
Can It Possibly Happen?
By Mandy Smithberger and William Hartung
Even as Congress moves to increase the Pentagon budget well beyond the astronomical levels proposed by the Biden administration, a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has outlined three different ways to cut $1 trillion in Department of Defense spending over the next decade. A rational defense policy could yield far more in the way of reductions, but resistance from the Pentagon, weapons contractors, and their many allies in Congress would be fierce.
After all, in its consideration of the bill that authorizes such budget levels for next year, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives recently voted to add $25 billion to the already staggering $750 billion the Biden administration requested for the Pentagon and related work on nuclear weapons at the Department of Energy. By any measure, that's an astonishing figure, given that the request itself was already far higher than spending at the peaks of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or President Ronald Reagan's military buildup of the 1980s.
In any reasonable world, such a military budget should be considered both unaffordable and deeply unsuitable when it comes to addressing the true threats to this country's "defense," including cyberattacks, pandemics, and the devastation already being wrought by climate change. Worst of all, providing a blank check to the military-industrial-congressional complex ensures the continued production of troubled weapon systems like Lockheed Martin's exorbitantly expensive F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is typically behind schedule, far above projected costs, and still not considered effective in combat.
Changing course would mean real reform and genuine accountability, starting with serious cuts to a budget for which "bloated" is far too kind an adjective.
Three Options for Reductions
At the request of Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the CBO devised three different approaches to cutting approximately $1 trillion (a decrease of a mere 14%) from the Pentagon budget over the next decade. Historically, it could hardly be a more modest proposal. After all, without any such plan, the Pentagon budget actually did decrease by 30% between 1988 and 1997.
Such a CBO-style reduction would still leave the department with about $6.3 trillion to spend over that 10-year period, 80% more than the cost of President Biden's original $3.5 trillion Build Back Better proposal for domestic investments. Of course, that figure, unlike the Pentagon budget, has already been dramatically whittled down to half its original size, thanks to laughable claims by "moderate" Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) that it would break the bank in Washington. Yet such critics of expanded social and economic programs rarely offer similar thoughts when it comes to the Pentagon's far larger bite of the budgetary pie.
The options in the budget watchdog's new report are anything but radical:
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