Originally published January, 2012.
No other nation offers a remote threat to America’s global military dominance, yet the nation spends nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. The U.S. is in an arms race, but against whom?
In 2011, the U.S. defense budget was over eight times that of China and ten times that of Russia. BBC News, Bloomberg In the middle of the worst global recession in decades, with the United States approaching a record $15 trillion in federal debt, absent a competing super power and with 50 million Americans living in poverty, America’s military buildup continues. Even with the proposed “cuts” America’s defense budget for 2012 will be more than twice the $328 billion budget of 2002.
Budget cuts that aren’t
The recent failure by the American Congress to reach a deficit reduction agreement triggered automatic “cuts” in defense spending, and this has many conservatives reacting in horror. Republican Congressman McKeon, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee claimed that he would “not preside over the crippling of the U.S. military”. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that cuts in spending would be “devastating” and “invite aggression against the U.S.”
Let’s pause here for a reality check: There has been no state aggression directly against the U.S. since WWII. These statements by McKeon and Panetta are absurd. Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, claimed that predictions of disaster are “palpable nonsense”. NPR
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, reviewed data from the Congressional Budget Office and found that the so-called “cuts” to defense spending are only cuts in the rate of growth. Even with the $662 billion 2012 defense budget approved by Congress in December 2011 (the Whitehouse initially requested $693 billion) defense spending is still forecast to grow by 16% from 2012 to 2021, to a staggering $818 billion by 2021. Without these “cuts,” the Pentagon would have seen a 23% increase. National Review. President Obama admitted in his Pentagon speech January 5, 2012, that the defense budget will still grow, only more slowly. CNN
How many bases?
In 2009, the Pentagon acknowledged maintaining 865 active U.S. military bases in 130 countries outside of the U.S. but this number didn’t include any of the bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. By 2011 the total was likely over 1000, and still excludes the several hundred bases within the United States. Foreign Policy in Focus, Politifact
In fact, depending on exactly what kinds of activities are counted, the total number of U.S. military installations worldwide is over 5,000. U.S. Department of Defense.
No other nation operates such a massive and costly network of military sites. China, with an economy as large as the U.S., has no foreign bases. Japan has no foreign bases. India with its rising economy has no foreign bases. Russia has a few small operations in central Asia. Britain and France have a few foreign bases, miniscule operations compared America’s mega bases.
America’s worldwide military footprint is hundreds of times larger than any other country. Add to this force-multiplier effects that make the American military far more destructive than sheer numbers suggest. America’s military leverages the integration of Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I), letting commanders detect and analyze battlefield developments in real time and rapidly deploy the most effective response. This, with stealth technology gives the American military lethality in all but the most highly defended or remote locations.
America’s new F-35 Lightning II fighter plane costs at least $90 million per copy. Even with Obama’s new budget proposal, the Pentagon will spend a mind-blowing $384 billion to purchase 2,443 F-35s over the next ten years and spend another $650 billion for their operation and maintenance, making it the most expensive weapons program in history. The Atlantic. At 2,443 planes, that will be 15 times as many modern fighter planes as China, 20 times as many as Russia. What justifies such a massive over-investment in war preparations? Who threatens America? Russia? China, with no foreign bases? Al Qaeda?
How many troops?
Of course, American bases are operated by people. Worldwide, 1.5 million soldiers serve on active duty in the U.S. military, with over 350,000 soldiers deployed on foreign soil (November 2011) and another 1.4 million soldiers in reserve status. Add to these the legions of contractors. According to the Washington Post, the Pentagon employs 1.2 million private contractors, bringing the total number serving the U.S. military to a whopping 2.7 million, 4.1 million including reserves.
Military superiority needed to defend the the nation’s vital interests is legitimate, but pervasive overkill is incredibly costly for American taxpayers, is destabilizing for other nations, and contributes to a global arms race. In real dollars, America’s defense budget has never been greater except at the peak of WWII. Even during the Viet Nam and Korean wars, America spent less.
America: Arms merchant to the world
In addition to spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on weapons, America is also the world’s largest merchant of war machines, capturing 53% of total global sales in 2010. Advanced weaponry is one of America’s hottest exports. CNN. In 2011, America sold $34.8 billion in military weapons, short of the $46 billion “targeted” earlier in the year. Business Week. And 2012 sales could be far higher, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Pentagon agency that oversees foreign arms sales. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia are expected to jump from $3 billion in 2010 to $60 billion in 2012, the largest arms sale ever, putting total sales for 2012 at nearly $100 billion. Christian Science Monitor. This sale to Saudi Arabia is driven by the fact that since America’s trillion-dollar invasion of Iraq, that country is now allied with Iran, which is a potential adversary of Saudi Arabia. So the United States will now be selling advanced F-16s to both Saudi Arabia and Iraq, countries that could one day be enemies. America has sold weapons worth many billions to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Note that aside from the tension between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, none of these countries face mortal enemies and many of the weapons America sells are more likely to be used against citizen uprisings than defense.
Weapons of war, gifts from American taxpayers
Many weapon “sales” to other nations are paid for by American taxpayers. From 2006 to 2012, American taxpayers gave $30 billion in military assistance (known as “foreign military financing”) to other countries. In 2011 alone, U.S. taxpayers gave $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt and a whopping $3 billion to Israel. These dollars are then used to buy weapons from the U.S. arms industry. U.S. Department of State.
Fully 28,000 American infants die each year in the U.S. The United States is ranked 30th against other nations in infant mortality, equal to Poland and Slovakia and far behind nearly all other industrialized nations. In an era of massive federal budgets cuts to the needy, to the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutritional program, to the Pell program which helps low income students earn a college education, and to jobs training programs for the unemployed, it is obscene that this government is spending such unnecessary amounts on defense and giving billions of dollars away in free weapons of war.
The U.S. is the single largest maker, buyer, purveyor and giver of the most destructive, most expensive weapons on Earth, and has been for several decades. Unquestioned military readiness is essential, but this nation continuously spends unreasoned and unjustified sums on global military dominance – over the health and well-being of its own citizens. This is the America that General and President Dwight Eisenhower warned of in his dire farewell speech, except that it’s far worse than even he feared. Some argue that overwhelming military superiority reduces the likelihood of war, but that argument is made suspect by the fact that when including all major military operations over the last several decades, the U.S. has been at war more often than at peace. In fact, American history suggests that having the most lethal weapons in the world makes their use inevitable.