Tag: defense budget

Let’s Talk About The Defense Budget – a letter to the editor

(This was submitted to the Letters to the Editor section of the Register Star here in Hudson. Not clear at the moment whether it will be published.)

Discussions of the Federal budget almost never mention the defense department.  Both political parties continue in the thrall of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”. The defense budget is off limits.

But, can we afford this military establishment? The US, with just 4.5% of the world’s population, supports almost 50% of the world’s expenditures on war. The US has over 700 military bases outside of the country ( Base Structure Report 2010 – downloads a PDF file). According to a 2010 DOD report there are 369,000 military personnel overseas plus the 140,000 +/- in Iraq and Afghanistan. 52,440 are in Germany, 35,688 in Japan, 28,500 in Republic of Korea, and 9,660 in Italy to name just a few countries.

Do you feel safer or more prosperous as a result of this global military presence? Is all of this military really making us more secure or is it contributing to a sense of occupation and external threat around the world. The US is not universally viewed benevolently. The current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East all involve regimes (excepting Syria) that have been direct recipients of US support, even our current evil-empire candidate Qaddafi.

How would you feel if foreign troops were stationed in Columbia County?

Whether you see this military might protecting democracy and our values around the world, or, to pick a polar opposite view, as an occupying force sustaining our global empire, you have to ask, can we afford it?

We all recognize that the US is no longer the preeminent economy in the world. We are just the biggest, but no longer the most dynamic. Can we afford to expend 20% of the Federal budget on defense and security when our competitors are spending just a fraction of that?  On a per capita basis other countries spend much less. China 4%, Japan 19%, South Korea 23%, Canada 26%, Germany 26%, France 46% and UK 44% (Wikipedia: military expenditures per capita)

What could we do with the hundreds of $billions we currently spend projecting our military outside of the US? Fix our crumbling interstate highway system, build a modern air traffic control system, build high speed trains in the megalopolises, or fund universal daycare and HeadStart. I am sure that you could come up with other ideas. I bet we could retire the national debt and reduce taxes all at the same time.

Whither the American Empire?

Americans do not like to use the word “empire” in reference to the country’s role in the world. Our Presidents uniformly role out rhetoric that sounds just like Obama’s. Here is a paragraph from his Inaugural speech:

And so, to all the other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born, know that America is a friend of each nation, and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity.  And we are ready to lead once more.

This is heart warming.  But, turning to some of the facts on the ground, as the generals and policy wonks like to say, we have to note that in justus_vs_world-miltary-spending the military dimension alone, there is solid evidence that there is an American empire.

For instance, the US defense budget is not just the largest in the world, our military spending is larger that nearly all of the other countries in the world combined at 48%. See the graph to the left. 1

Are we really spending all of this money for “defense”? Or is it something else that comes closer to empire that is consuming these resources?

Perhaps another statistic will suggest something further of the scope of our empire. Lets look at the enormous, and growing, array of military bases covering the globe. As the Pentagon’s Base Structure Report shows, we have over 750 military bases outside of the US. Leaving aside our bases throughout Europe, Japan, South Korea, and various islands, new bases are being added in Africa and Central Asia as this is written.


  1. The image borrowed without permission from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/policy/securityspending/articles/fy09_dod_request_global/ []