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April 27, 2007

Record Military Budget Ignores Security 'Big Picture'


by Eli Clifton

Although 57 percent of the U.S. public now believes that sending troops to Iraq was a mistake, the military budget request that President George W. Bush submitted to Congress is the largest since World War II – and little money is earmarked for domestic security.

The budget requests 623 billion dollars for military spending for fiscal year 2008, which begins Oct. 1. Defense Department officials say budgets in future years might reflect considerable increases of that figure, based on the rationale that military spending currently represents only a small percentage of national gross domestic product (GDP).

"It seems odd that we're even talking about the size of the private economy (which GDP partly reflects) since the private economy isn't funding the military. We should be looking at the amount of public dollars available for investment," Miriam Pemberton, research fellow at Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF, a joint project of the center-left thinktanks Institute for Policy Studies and International Relations Center), told IPS. Military spending "is now over 50 percent of the discretionary budget," she said.

This budget, submitted in February, reflects the Bush doctrine's policies of broad unilateral military action, which, according to a report released Thursday by FPIF, "prescribes an expansive, global role for the military, one that even current levels of spending don't come to close to covering."

The FPIF's "Report of the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States" for fiscal year 2008 points to the Bush doctrine of building military size and spending because "we can," but that doesn't ask the question of if "we should."

The report's task force included former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence J. Korb, retired Lt. Gen. Robert G. Gard Jr. and William Johnstone, who served as a professional staff member on the 9/11 Commission that investigated the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

The 2008 budget appears to ignore both the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report, which promoted a shift from a foreign policy strategy of military force to diplomacy, and the latest polls which show that the U.S. public believes the current unilateral foreign policy is eroding U.S. standing around the world and made the country more susceptible to terrorist attacks.

FPIF advocates a unified security budget (USB) which would pull together all the U.S. security tools including military forces, homeland security and preventative nonmilitary international engagement. This would make it easier for Congress to evaluate overall security spending and make the best allocation of resources.

The report voices concern with several security tradeoffs proposed within the 2008 budget.

For example, the F-22 fighter jet program – the strategic necessity of which has been seriously questioned – is receiving a funding increase of over 600 million dollars in the 2008 budget.

That 600 million dollars could triple the amount the U.S. plans to spend on canceling debts of poor countries, or could increase by 50 percent U.S. contributions to international peacekeeping operations. Or it could more than triple the amount budgeted in 2007 for domestic rail and transit security programs.

FPIF also points to the 800-million-dollar budget for offensive space weapons, which some believe could lead to a new arms race. That sum could have doubled the originally requested budget for the State Department's Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization – a corps of civilian experts in post-conflict rebuilding envisioned for Iraq and other locations – which has been publicly supported by the Pentagon.

Security tradeoffs in line with the Bush doctrine have consistently overlooked nonmilitary security and foreign policy expenses, says the FPIF's report.

"(Vice President) Cheney and others have put together this whole plan that says the answer is to be the sole superpower and maintain such a level of military superiority that no other country will even think about challenging us. But then you get the question of how much is enough?" said Pemberton, principal author of the report.

The proposed 2008 national security budget allocates 90 percent of funds to military expenditures while preventive programs. receive four percent and the Department of Homeland Security receives six percent.

The task force advocates a 56-billion-dollar cut in offensive military spending and a 50-billion-dollar increase on deface and prevention, which would convert a militarized 9-to-1 security budget ratio to a balance of 5-to-1.

While military spending remains a high priority in the national security budget, the State Department has resorted to receiving private donations to subsidize its nonproliferation programs. such as the five million dollars of private money paid for the removal of highly enriched uranium from Serbia.

"It was embarrassing (but) we needed the money," said a State Department official quoted in the report.

(Inter Press Service)


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Eli Clifton is a reporter for IPS.

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