27 December 2010


In The Big (Military) Taboo, Nicholas Kristof offers a radical suggestion in this time of recession, spending cuts, and debates over taxes -- the bloated, inefficient, and corrupt military portion of the national budget is in dire need of reconstructive surgery. Heretofore sacrosanct, military spendng has grown out of control, whether in times of war or of peace (see graphic above, click to enlarge). Several facts to consider, quoted from Kristof's article:
  • The United States spends nearly as much on military power as every other country in the world combined .... we spend more than six times as much as the country with the next highest budget, China (see graphic below).

  • The United States maintains troops at more than 560 bases and other sites abroad, many of them a legacy of a world war that ended 65 years ago.

  • The intelligence community is so vast that more people have Top Secret security clearances than live in Washington, DC.

  • The U.S. will spend more on the war in Afghanistan this year, adjusted for inflation, than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American war, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War combined.

Kristof continues, "Let me be clear -- I'm a believer in a robust military, which is essential for backing up diplomacy. But the implication is that we need a balanced tool chest of diplomatic and military tools alike. Instead, we have a billionaire military and pauper diplomacy. The U.S. military now has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has in its foreign service -- and that's preposterous .... Paradoxically, it's often people in the military who lead the way in warning against overinvestment in arms. It was President Dwight Eisenhower who gave the strongest warning .... It is Defense Secretary Robert Gates who has argued that military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, sharper scrutiny. It is Secretary Gates who has argued most eloquently for more investment in diplomacy and development aid. American troops in Afghanistan are among the strongest advocates of investing in more in schools there because they see firsthand that education fights extremism far more effectively than bombs. And here is the trade-off -- for the cost of one American soldier in Afghanistan for one year, you could build 20 schools.

"In the 21st century, our government can protect its citizens in many ways -- financing research against disease, providing early childhood programs that reduce crime later, boosting support for community colleges, investing in diplomacy that prevents costly wars. As we cut budgets (see graphic below for the relationship between defense spending and the national budget deficit, let's remember that these steps would, on balance, do far more for the security of Americans than a military base in Germany."

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