Albion Monitor /Commentary

What Happened to the Peace Dividend?

by Randolph T. Holhut

Why is the U.S. still spending over $260 billion a year on defense?
(AR) DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The Cold War is over. We won. The Soviet Union no longer exists. There is no other comparable superpower now in existence or looming on the horizon.

So why is the U.S. still spending over $260 billion a year on defense?

With no present enemy, the U.S. military has to create them
The U.S. defense budget, adjusted for inflation, is now running at the same level as the tense years of the 1950's. It is only 23 percent lower than its all-time peak during the Reagan Administration.

Despite claims by conservatives that President Clinton has dangerously weakened the military, total U.S. defense spending over the next six years will amount to about $1.6 trillion, according to the Center for Defense Information.

Spending this kind of money is insane, considering the lack of present or potential enemies. By comparison, Great Britain, France, Germany and Japan will each spend less than $200 billion for defense over that time span.

What are our potential enemies spending? On the basis of 1994 figures, Russia tops the list at $47 billion, followed by China ($21.8 billion), Iraq ($8.6 billion), North Korea ($5.1 billion), Iran ($4.3 billion), Libya ($1.8 billion) and Cuba ($1.3 billion). Add their budgets all together, and it's still a third of what the U.S. is spending.

With no present enemy, the U.S. military has to create them. Some of these new enemies that the Pentagon is cooking up were revealed in a recent issue of CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn's excellent muckraking newsletter.

CounterPunch got a copy of a secret document prepared by the Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. That document, which lists some of the future enemies, is now circulating among the top brass of the Air Force.

The chief potential enemy is called "The Khan," as in Genghis. This is the name the futurists gave to China and will it may become by 2020 -- an aggressive land that will have swallowed up Korea, Japan and possibly Vietnam. The Khan will be an economic superpower that will develop and produce advanced weapons, so the U.S. will have to spend more money to counter this threat.

Sound bizarre? The report also advances a scenario where the U.S., as the only remaining superpower, is forced to police a world rocked by violent local conflicts. According to one Pentagon official: "The Bear is dead, but the woods are full of snakes."

China and Russia might yet become threats, according to the report. Others are talking about G.E.T., which stands for Generic Emerging Threat. It's little wonder that with scenarios like these, internal Pentagon studies predict a doubling of the U.S. defense budget over the next 20 years.

If we cut $150 billion the U.S. would still be spending four times as much as any other nation on Earth
This country remains one of the few industrialized nations that spends more on its military than on education. We spend about two-thirds of our federal research and development money on the military, mostly for weapons development. Japan spends five percent on military R & D; Germany spends about 15 percent.

We make great tanks and warplanes. Every country in the world wants to buy them and we're more than willing to oblige. But power in the post-Cold War world now rests with countries like Japan and Germany that invested in education and civilian industries instead of weapons building and maintaining a global military presence.

While the numbers of troops and weapons have indeed decreased since the end of the Cold War, there has been little money saved. Instead, the money going to defense industry has increased. The share prices of defense contractors have increased 30 percent over the past year.

If Congress cut out funding for weapons that have no current mission (the B-2 bomber and the Seawolf submarine are two examples) and reduced our assistance to our allies to defend against threats that no longer exist, we could easily cut about $150 billion a year from the defense budget.

Cutting our present defense budget by $150 billion would not result in a weak and puny military. The U.S. would still be spending four times as much as any other nation on Earth. The military would still be capable of fighting a Persian Gulf War-sized conflict (with forces to spare) or conduct eight Haiti or Somalia-sized interventions simultaneously.

The Pentagon doesn't agree. Their extensive review in 1993 suggested that we need a military that could fight two Gulf Wars as well as conduct a Panama-sized invasion plus a Somalia-sized operation _ all the same time and without help from our allies. The chances of this scenario happening are about nil. Our military didn't have this capability even during the height of the Cold War.

The American economy since World War II has come to depend upon massive defense spending
Funding the military-industrial complex is the one part of the federal budget that is above reproach. It rewards a large group of individuals -- executives, scientists, engineers, lobbyists and many defense industry workers. The American economy since World War II has come to depend upon massive defense spending.

Then again, you could do an awful lot with $150 billion. Remember the "peace dividend;" all the money that was supposed to have been freed up for other purposes with the end of the Cold War? Now is the time to collect on it. Cutting $150 billion a year from the defense budget could take care of much of the long overdue investments in people and infrastructure that were neglected during the Reagan defense build-up in the 1980s, with some money left over for deficit reduction or defense industry reconversion.

Given the current mindset in Washington, a proposal like this one would be considered outrageously radical. But it is hard to justify having a military that gobbles up over half of the federal government's discretionary spending without a present or future threat.

Randolph T. Holhut is a freelance journalist and editor of "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He is presently attending the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University

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Albion Monitor March 10, 1997 (

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