Turning to the Sustainable Defense Task Force 11 June report, the Times notes that it “concluded that the Pentagon could cut $960 billion between 2011 and 2020 without harming essential security.(…) The president’s deficit commission must do the same. The military budget is 20 percent of federal spending and 50 percent of discretionary spending. There is no way to address the deficit without deeper cuts in defense spending.”
The New York Times editorial entitled, Mr. Gates Makes a Start, which was published August 14, 2010, stated what many experts have already said: the DOD budget has been packed with unnecessary pork filled programs for a very long time. The harsh reality is that much of this spending has been due to the lobbying of the defense industry and their Congressional allies. Part has been due to the various units of the armed forces pushing for their pet projects which often reflect 20th century wars and a security landscape that does not now exist.
Defense Secretary Gates has tried to attack some elements of this problem but there is much more that needs to be done and it can be done without endangering our security. One element of the problem, as noted above, is the relentless push from industry, backed by a horde of highly paid lobbyists, for various useless and unneeded weapons systems. The dependence of our elected officials on this flow of money into their campaign chests and, generally speaking, the corruption of money in our political system, helps fuel this excessive military spending. This extensive military spending occurs at the cost of truly needed societal and global priorities. One answer is to change the influence of money on our politics.
The problem is that the Republican Party and even some Democrats are happy with the status quo, and even want more money poured into military projects which are of no use at all except to those rich business leaders who walk away with multi-million dollar bonuses without any desire to make us safer. Indeed some of these proposed projects, like new nuclear weapons, actually make us less safe.
The second, problem is within the Department of Defense and revolves around the need for better planning and the evaluation of real needs and real threats. There remains a disconnect between our assessment of future threats and requests for new systems. In the end, we need leadership at the top, including the President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the top decision makers in DOD who are wiling to brave the onslaught of monied interests and constituency pressures.
Frankly, there exists a fear of the loss of jobs which in this economy is critical in many regions. The answer to this is to re-direct this unhelpful funding immediately and effectively towards useful programs which will have a long-term impact on American productivity and social needs. President Obama has been trying to do this via his useful and needed new energy programs under the stimulus program but it is being opposed by the usual suspects of the far right. Therefore it remains too little and too slow. It has not made a direct tradeoff between unneeded weapons and needed new clean and American based energy systems and social infrastructure, including education for our young.
I am not one of those who believe that now is the time to make substantial cuts in Pentagon spending as simply part of deficit reduction efforts. I believe the money is needed now to rebuild American productivity, put people back to work on necessary social and physical infrastructure, and move our economy towards sustainable growth. The time for dealing with the deficit is when this growth occurs. Further, as I have written in the Financial Times, this is a time to invest in our nation and to solve pressing global problems. As most sane economists have noted, sustained growth will most effectively deal with any deficit as it did after World War II.
A debate on this is needed and the NY Times editorial is a start as are some new studies on this problem that are currently being undertaken. There is a vital need for a wider consensus in our society that this is a necessary and constructive direction and has the support of a wide grouping of society as well as key leaders. That is a topic which should be fully addressed, but probably won’t be, in the forthcoming election cycle.
By: Harry C. Blaney III