The Burden of Pentagon Spending

The last decade’s surge in military spending has added to America’s debt while having a dubious impact on U.S. security. The upcoming elections now pit President Obama, who is calling for reductions, against Mitt Romney, who is calling for more increases, writes ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman.

By Melvin A. Goodman

Over the past decade, the United States has engaged in the most significant increase in defense spending since the Korean War.

Trillions of dollars have been allocated for the Pentagon, with little congressional monitoring or internal oversight. The defense budget for 2012 exceeds $600 billion, nearly equaling the combined defense spending of the rest of world.

Two U.S. Marine Corps AV-8 Harriers fly in formation during training exercises. (Photo credit: Defense Department photo by Gunnery Sgt. Chad Kiehl, U.S. Marine Corps.)

Every U.S. taxpayer spends twice as much for the cost of national defense as each British citizen; five times as much as each German; and six times as much as each Japanese. Recent U.S. military expenditures include more than $2.5 trillion to wage unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have failed to enhance American security.

The current economic crisis and tepid economic recovery during President Barack Obama’s first term have created the imperative to reduce defense spending and the size of the U.S. military.

More than 46 million Americans live in poverty; unemployment rates have remained at unacceptably high levels; and the economic concerns of the middle class have not abated.

The income gap between the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the country continues to grow sharply. Millions of American have learned that their primary assets — their homes — have become a liability.

President Dwight Eisenhower warned that military demands for U.S. defense spending would become a “cross of iron” that would limit spending on domestic needs. It is time to act on that warning by making significant cuts in defense spending and applying the savings to health care, education, infrastructure and the environment.

The Budget Control Act of 2010 was a good first step, mandating cuts in defense spending of $485 billion over the next 10 years and allowing reductions in the size of the Army and the Marines that would still leave ground forces larger than pre-Sept. 11 levels.

Excessive spending on the Air Force, which faces no challenge, is the most wasteful of all military expenditures. We could save $15 billion to $20 billion annually by reducing the F-35 fighter fleet to 1,000, far more than is needed for any conceivable threat. The cost of each F-35 has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, making it the Pentagon’s most expensive program.

As the Air Force is dominant in the skies, the Navy has, in the words of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughhead, a “degree of overmatch [with any adversary] that is extraordinary.” Reducing the number of ships in the U.S. Navy would save $60 billion over 10 years. The commitment to sustain 11 aircraft carrier battle groups is particularly questionable.

Meanwhile, the Marines have not conducted an amphibious landing since the Korean War but remain committed to the V-22 Osprey, a problematic vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, as well as a new landing vehicle, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

Fewer intercontinental ballistic missiles could save $80 billion over the next 10 years, and eliminating nuclear weapons from our strategic bombers would bring additional savings of $40 billion.

President Barack Obama has stated his commitment to a smaller military and less defense spending, although his position on reducing specific weapons systems has not been clarified.

Mitt Romney, however, is committed to greater investment in a bloated military that has been given a virtual blank check for the past decade. His program would make a bad situation worse.

Mr. Romney is opposed to the bipartisan agreement to cut defense spending over the next 10 years, known as “sequestration.” On the contrary, he favors increased spending on defense that would amount to nearly $1 trillion over a decade. Mr. Romney has pledged to spend at least 4 percent of gross domestic product on defense, a bizarre way to plan for national defense.

His strident statements on foreign policy interests that involve Russia, China, Iran and the Middle East suggest that he would pursue aggressive policies that could lead to greater military deployments overseas.

Unlike Mr. Obama, who has pledged to reduce U.S. troop levels by 100,000 over the next five years, Mr. Romney wants to increase troop levels by 100,000; such an increase would cost $200 billion over the next 10 years.

Mr. Romney also wants to increase naval shipbuilding to 15 vessels a year, while Mr. Obama favors limiting shipbuilding to the current pace of nine ships a year. Mr. Romney even favors reopening the production line for the F-22 fighter plane, which has already cost the United States nearly $80 billion. His plan would cost an additional $120 billion over the next 10 years.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates argued that a “smaller military will be able to go to fewer places and do fewer things,” one of the best arguments for reduced defense spending.

An equally strong argument is that, by reorienting government spending away from the military and toward our domestic problems, we can strengthen the security of our nation.

Melvin A. Goodman is a former CIA analyst and the author of the forthcoming “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” (City Lights Publishing, January 2013). His email is goody789@verizon.net. [This article first appeared at the Baltimore Sun. It's published here with the author’s approval.]

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8 comments on “The Burden of Pentagon Spending

  1. Hillary on said:

    The last decade’s surge in military spending has added to America’s debt while having a dubious impact on U.S. Sanity.

  2. F. G. Sanford on said:

    There was a ‘window of opportunity’ for the invincibility of stealth technology. That window has begun to close with the development of passive radar. Drone warfare depends on the exquisitely vulnerable illusion that “radio control” cannot be jammed or detected. Global Positioning, the foundation of precision air strikes, is a software-intensive Achilles heel which will ultimately be ‘sorted out’ by dedicated hackers. All of these systems rely on semiconductors, which despite terrabyte capability and light-speed velocity are extremely vulnerable to a variety of low-technology electromagnetic influences, not to mention ‘hacking’. The “fly-by-wire” technology in modern fighter aircraft relies on designs which are inherently and intentionally unstable. Instability is what confers maneuverability. But no pilot can fly it if the software fails.

    The best educated, leading edge mathematicians, physicists and engineers today are educated and employed in Russia, China, India and yes…even Iran. As the lunatic right wing cuts education, social safety nets, infrastructure programs and all the things that made America great, our Department of Defense is being systematically defeated by home-made bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our weapons systems rely ever more on the fragility of semiconductor technology. We have abandoned the ignoble vacuum tube, but our most likely future enemies still produce them…in vast quantities. The window for technological invincibility closed on Hitler’s third Reich. The ME-262, if produced in large quantities, could have defeated Allied Air Power. As the Allies developed microwave radar and Doppler radio direction finding, the “U-boat Menace” became a paper tiger. Hitler’s response? An irrational rant: “More U-boats! More U-boats! More U-boats! More U-boats!”

    We are sacrificing the lifestyle that made patriotism a virtue. As the quality of American society deteriorates, and opportunities expand among our more rational former enemies, I suspect that what was once called the “brain drain” will head in a new direction. The obsolescence of a surface navy as a strategic deterrent became obvious when the German battleship Bismarck was sunk in 1941. By 1943, the same was true for submarines. But here we are, on the same irrational rant that destroyed Hitler: “More! More! More!” Overextended abroad and strangled by economic woes at home, the defense industry has become our Waterloo, our Stalingrad, our albatross, and our undoing. Publicly funded wars for private profit have bankrupted us. Wall street continues to pay no taxes on hypervelocity trading and off-shore profits, but we seek to balance the budget by cutting Social Security and benefits to the poor. All the while, our misinformed populace continues to vote against its own self-interests…and they truly believe themselves to be patriots. Pitiful. Get ready for the “Grand Bargain” that’s being cooked up. Austerity is coming to a city near you.

    • elmerfudzie on said:

      Mr Sanford, indeed EPM effects are minimal against the old vacuum tube! If our public only knew the extent that air port towers and their controllers relied on them, yipe! old wiring and all! But relax, all bases are covered. Our Intel folks have the mini-nukes (MADAM/SADM’s) buried near all the right pressure points (the Kremlin does this too). I wonder where all the real (unemployed) trouble makers went? Stasi, retired KGB and the Greek mob (not the Philadelphia kind) but the ones exiting present day Greece, another YIPE! and the rest of their ilk, who were living large in Spain and Italy….all yearn for new territory. Loretta Napoleoni will have another book to write!

  3. clarence swinney on said:

    Tax wealth like 1945-1980 pay off debt
    TAX CUTS
    Republicans slash taxes for the middle class? Like Bush Tax Cuts?
    Top 1% got 37.6%–Top 5% got 48.3%
    Bottom 60% got 16.4%. Luckie duckies?

    Republicans will not be satisfied until we pass Chile and Mexico as Least taxed in oecd nations.
    We rank third. We take 27% of gdp in federal-state-local taxes. Rank 4th on Inequality.
    Top 50% take 86% of individual income. 70,000,000 get 14% yet pay full payroll tax out of measly income.

    In 2011, Corporate paid 12.1% Tax Rate yet scream 35% rate is highest in world cut it cut cut it.

    2013 budget calls for taxes of 2900B and borrow 900B. Dumb. Our income is 14,000B yet we borrow 900B? That is 900B the richest will keep in their pocket. Since 1980, We borrowed 15,000 Billion
    and did not tax enough which allowed rich to get very rich.

    It will take a tax system like 1945-1980 that paid down WWII debt. It will take decades.
    We CAN do it. Remember the great domestic growth even with those high tax rates?
    We Must do it. The rich have taken us to the cleaners. War. Cut Tax. Huh?

    Bush huge tax cut assisted in our debt going from 5800 to 11,900 Billion. Doubled.
    Clinton last budget ended 9-30-01 with 5800B of debt. Bush last budget ended 9-30-09 with 11,900B of debt.

    From 1980–2009, three Republican presidents and Debt grew by 9000B. It has grown
    by 4100B under Obama three budgets. But! About one-third is from Bush three “New” programs.
    CBO study revealed that 2001-2010 Bush “new” programs created 5100B of debt.

    We MUST cut spending in Defense And Medicare plus increase revenue from taxes on rich estates and incomes. Is it not sad that one family owns more wealth than 90% of families. Tax rates 1945-10980 would have prevented it. The Great middle Class needs a break. clarence swinney

    • elmerfudzie on said:

      Why trim Medicare? it is one of the supporting legs of the Health Care Industry which accounts for one seventh of our GNP. It’s administrative costs are about as low as Catholic Relief Services. Next year this time congress will be slapping John Doe with an across-the-board thirty five hundred dollar flat tax-per family! The justification of which will be another “sky is falling” rant about imminent collapse of the economy but don’t you believe it. Our citizenry have been groomed with this “terror jive” from Wall Street for a long time. The truth is, trillions of untaxed dollars have left our country’s coffers for off shore banks. We can recover the nation’s tax losses with a Presidential Order and with the aid of the Coast Guard, seize all questionable precious metal, gem or art holdings in lock boxes secured in the Grand Cayman Islands or similar financial hideouts, forth with along with other dubious “digital-transfers” and their tax evading account holders. A sum equivalent to fifty percent (the usual 35 % plus 15% for treasonous behavior) can be gleaned from these treasures to set our economy back on it’s feet again. It does take guts, it does take back-bone to do this however that jellyfish in the WH can’t hope to make the grade and neither could that other side of the same coin, Romney!

  4. je proteste on said:

    How did Medicare creep in there?

  5. elmerfudzie on said:

    There are several unanswered questions and to understand the answers requires revealing to what extent does our Navy has a permanent presence in space. This opens inquiries that go beyond the already commonly known surveillance satellites (the grid at eleven thousand miles out) but the presence of permanent stations with military personnel on (hidden) space platforms. Those trillions of dollars borrowed, actually stolen, from the social security funds automatically entitles it’s beneficiaries to “a piece of the action”. By that I mean we, the useless and retired eaters, financed this strategic take over of the earth so aptly described by Bruce Gagnon- as in his words, capturing the most militarily strategic spot in space. The Pentagon (not Washington) has for some time, been in the throes of shredding all manor of political agreements, treaties, detentes and now has perched itself high above the earth no doubt with unknown weapons similar to chemical lasers and seven mile per second, atmosphere penetrating, Tungsten arrows. Be it President “Ike” or that creature, General Dempsey, their kind seem to speak out- Post Facto. In the former case, probably out of fear of personal safety and in the later, he doesn’t want to sit in the Nuremberg docket after A-bombs are used in the middle east. We’ve had enough of “the deep state” and they will only be grudgingly tolerated (Cain was marked not killed) if the financial books are properly balanced and our citizenry given it’s due, paid in full, by endless rows in Arlington Cemetery . We were not cannon fodder then and we’re not cannon fodder now, nor are we fools!!!