With the release of its annual report on China’s military capabilities at the end of March, the Pentagon is doing its part to keep alive the threat of the red menace.
China’s official military budget jumped to $60 billion, an 18 percent increase over last year, but US officials warned that the actual figure is somewhere between $105 and $150 billion annually.
Without a hint of irony, the report expresses concern about, “the purposes to which China‘s current and future military power will be applied,” and suggests that Beijing could even use its armed forces “to ensure access to resources or enforce claims to disputed territories.”
Sound familiar? Well, Washington apparently needs to relearn the basic moral principle of universality: What is wrong for others to do, must also be wrong for us.
In February, the Obama administration requested a mind-boggling $664 billion for the US military over the next fiscal year – more than 10 times China’s official budget. In fact, the US spends roughly the same amount on “defense” each year as every other country in the world combined, according to the authoritative data of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
And much like China, Washington’s accounting for such things is notoriously lacking in transparency. Many expenses that the average person would consider defense-related – such as funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Energy’s maintenance of the nuclear stockpile, military aid to allies, and the share of interest payments on the national debt that can be attributed to the past military spending – are hidden in other parts of the federal budget. When all of these costly extras are added up, the United States’ unofficial military budget tops out at more than $1 trillion.
To make it simple, Robert Higgs, a senior fellow at the Independent Institute, has written, "A well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon’s (always well publicized) basic budget total and double it."
And who outside of our borders would say that the “purposes” of the US military machine are benign or that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with “natural resources”? It’d be hard for anyone to take that argument seriously while our troops occupy two countries and bomb a third with unmanned drones on a weekly basis.
The truth is that the vast sums allocated by both the US and China for future wars is a tragic waste of finite resources, especially given the spiraling financial and ecological crises that we face. The trade-offs must be laid bare. Do we want to spend more on F-35 Joint Strike Fighters – at a staggering $100 million a piece – or use that money for food and shelter for the millions who have been driven into poverty due to the economic collapse? Do we want to spend another $2 billion each month for the next 5 or 10 years to fight the war in Afghanistan, or should that money be used to further research into alternative energy and build a high-speed rail system across the country? We simply cannot have it all.
Senator Barney Frank is one of the only legislators on Capitol Hill who has been willing to tackle this issue. For months, he has been avidly pushing for a 25 percent cut to the military budget. While his proposal is seen as radical by most in Congress, the Pentagon budget could take a 40 percent hit and its funding would only be back to where it was at the end of Clinton’s last term – thanks to President Bush’s eight year military spending binge.
Until the United States acknowledges the monster in the mirror and begins to dramatically cut its bloated military budget, President Obama’s soaring rhetoric about the need for a different, more respectful relationship with the rest of the world will unfortunately remain hollow words.
And if China is ever to slow or reduce its military spending, as the sole military power in the world, the US must lead by example.
Eric Stoner is a freelance journalist based in New York, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus. His articles have appeared in The Guardian, Mother Jones and The Nation. He can be contacted through his website: ericstoner.net