US Politics

Maybe Some Defense Cuts Wouldn’t Be So Bad After All

We’ve all seen variations on this chart for years, but this version from the International Institute for Strategic Studies makes the case that perhaps the U.S., twenty years out of the Cold War, might be able to cut defense spending just a bit.

Instead of bickering over making older workers stay on the job until they are 70 or 71, perhaps we should look at some other cuts.


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  • This should be made into a poster displayed in every room where people talk about the size of the federal government.

    Of course a chunk of this budget deals with the infrastructure of supporting the defense establishment (schools, roads, buildings, landscaping, golf courses, bowling alleys, day care centers, water/sewer systems, power) that are handled by civilian agencies in other countries, so these numbers are exactly equivalent, but when one considers the scale of these expenditures, there clearly is room for fairly dramatic cuts, especially if one matches those cuts with a more reasonable vision of the US role in international security affairs.

  • In 2001 Donald Rumsfeld announced that the Pentagon was unable to track $2.1 trillion in funds, not lost by any means, but unaccounted for. In addition programs like the Shuttle and War on Drugs and AEC are disguised defense spending, and quite a bit of intrigue in embedded in the State Department budget. I telligence budgets are a black hole. Like everything else in our government these days, nothing we see is true.

    So your graphs are interesting but don’t begin to tell the story.

    • I attempted to trace the chart data but gave up after about 40 minutes of clicking thru links. Basically, you’re correct Mark: Defense related spending is general significantly higher than what is normally counted as “defense spending.” However, a lot of the black budget gets siphoned off from other agencies whose budgets are public.

      I suspect Rumsfeld’s comments related to the black money pool that was consolidated early 90s when hundreds of Cold War related satellite, radar, sonar and misc R&D projects were closed down and their surplus funds (which had been hidden from Pentagon accountants since the start of the various programs: black money accounts do not report fund balances up thru normal accounting channels) were consolidated during the first Bush administration.

      A lot of that “black” money was used to fund the first Gulf War and US interventions in Northern Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo (one of the reasons that the first Gulf War and Clinton era interventions didn’t have the same impact on the economy as Bush II’s military adventures).

      The problem was not that the money was necessarily “missing,” the problem that Rumsfeld was talking about was that it’s wasn’t clear how it was spent or how much was left. Apparently there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dark accounts — some were consolidated in the National Imaging and Mapping Agency (now the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency), some were distributed to various special projects, and others went to fund….?

      (An aside: Al Gore’s “Reinventing Government” initiative was an attempt to start to bring rational order to government expenditures, requiring plans and performance metrics in advance of budget appropriations (gasp!). However most federal agencies — especially DoD pushed back after their plans/accounting efforts failed miserably, and Congress effectively castrated that program by not holding agencies accountable (because it took too much work to effectively oversee the budgets they were supposed to oversee, and because questionable budget assumptions were often traded for political favors, e.g. I won’t call you on X if you fund Y for my campaign donors).

      Bush II killed it altogether (in part, because it made senior level decisions transparent and accountable).

      So…you’re right, it’s most likely worse than we can imagine, but it’s unquantifiable, so should we use it as a data point for this discussion? The “white” budget is so out of line with rational strategic security requirements that just looking at the chart should be enough to make DoD fair game for significant budget cuts.

      • The National Security State is a monster that is so big that even as Don’s graphs are intriguing, they don’t begin to tell the story. There are no “National Security” interests that require us to have 700+ bases (real bases, not storage facilities) around the globe. They are there to protect corporate investments, to advance corporate interests, and for aggressive purposes. Right now a major “security” concern is encirclement of Russia and China, not because they threaten us in any way, but because they are seen as a counterforce to our need to control resources farms, once called the “Third world.”

        The invention of the “terrorist,” 9/11 and such demonic forces was nothing more than a domestic mind game to scare Americans into supporting use of the military for aggression all over the globe. It has advanced now to such a degree that the only way out is some catastrophic event – collapse of the dollar or military defeat. Though we have not won a war since the end of World War II, we have managed to terrorize the globe. the end of the American Empire will benefit the human race, and cannot come soon enough.

        • Mark: we agree.

          The perpetuation and growth of the current national security state has little to do with pursuing strategic interests: it has everything to do with perpetuating domestic economic and power centers. President Obama’s foreign policy and national security staffing choices demonstrate his acceptance of these power centers and has failed to take any meaningful steps at increasing fiscal and programmatic accountability in the bureaucracy.

          The Republicans are even worse on this score. Sen. Lugar was the last legislator that kind of “got it,” and the Tea Baggers made sure he wouldn’t be a threat again.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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