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Military Lunacy: How About A Bit Of Common Sense?


In a crazy place, even the most modest steps toward sanity can seem radical.

Thus, in Washington, the Common Sense Budget Act, introduced this week by Representative Lynn Woolsey of California, seems like a far-reaching move.

In fact, it might be better titled the “How About Just a Bit of Common Sense Act.”

The legislation would divert $60 billion from the Pentagon budget, and allocate it to social investment, renewable energy and humanitarian aid. Fifteen other members of the Progressive Caucus, of which Woolsey is co-chair, are co-sponsoring the bill.

Sixty billion dollars obviously goes a long way when it comes to people’s needs, and the legislation promises to do a lot. Among the programs that would benefit:

* $10 billion annually would go to provide health care coverage for millions of uninsured children.

* $10 billion a year would be spent on modernizing schools.

* $10 billion would be invested annually in renewable energy.

* $13 billion would be spent every year on humanitarian foreign aid.

Yes, $60 billion is a tremendous amount of money.

But not for the Department of Defense. The Pentagon is seeking $463 billion for the next fiscal year. That figure excludes the amount Rumsfeld and friends will request to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and anywhere else they might start fights). For war-fighting, the administration is expected to seek an additional $115 billion in 2006. So we’re approaching $600 billion a year in defense/war spending.

The proposed cuts for the Pentagon follows recommendations from Reagan Assistant Defense Secretary Lawrence J. Korb. In a report issued in conjunction with the introduction of the Common Sense Budget Act, Korb writes that, “without diminishing America’s ability to fight extremists, America can save $60 billion mostly by eliminating Cold War-era weapons systems designed to thwart the former Soviet Union — weapons and programs that are not useful in defending our country from extremists or the other threats we now face.” Most of the proposed savings come from reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, cutting most spending for the missile defense program, and scaling back or eliminating support for weapons designed to fight perceived threats from the Soviet Union.

In other words, these are no-brainer cost savings. They aim to stop spending on Cold War weaponry, but don’t threaten the prevailing war-fighting ideology at the Pentagon. The proposed cuts would upset particular defense contractors and agencies, to be sure, but they don’t pose a fundamental challenge to the Pentagon’s vice grip over the federal budget and inside-the-beltway politics and culture.

By way of perspective, consider this: global military expenditures soared past the $1 trillion mark in 2004, according to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and published in the Institute’s 2005 Yearbook. In inflation-adjusted terms, military spending is now rivaling the record total achieved during the peak of Cold War expenditures in 1988-1989, according to SIPRI.

Since 1998, government military spending has jumped almost 6 percent annually in real terms. “The major determinant of the world trend in military expenditure is the change in the USA, which makes up 47 percent of the world total,” according to SIPRI’s 2005 Yearbook.

By 2007, U.S. spending is expected to constitute more than half the total global military expenditure.

There are roughly 300 million people living in the United States. There are about 6.5 billion people on the planet, meaning the U.S. population is about 4.6 percent of the global total.

One half the world’s military spending. Under 5 percent of the world’s population.

Crazy.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, <http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com>. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, <http://www.multinationalmonitor.org>. Mokhiber and Weissman are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press).

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