More Thinking about the Defence Budget and US “Security” – a letter to the editor

Submitted Today to Hudson’s Register Star

Letter to the Editor

May 6, 2011

As our politicians and the media continue the “debate” about our public budgets, Federal and state, we need to continue to ask that they have a debate that includes all aspects of income and expenditures.

I want to focus here on our spending in the Dept. of Defense. Let’s just focus on the more than 750 military bases outside of the US for a moment.  Why do we continue to support military bases throughout Western Europe in nine countries (77,379 personnel in 14,706 buildings with 629 acres of floor space). Germany alone has 167 US military bases. Japan houses 91 US military bases (41,512 personnel in 8,703 buildings with 731 acres of floor space).  The costs are a bit less clear since the Pentagon provides no reports broken down along these lines. But, we can guesstimate. DOD spending last year ( including Iraq and Afghanistan) was $696 billion and the personnel deployed in Europe and Japan are 8% of total active personnel.  You can easily guess that the costs are very big particularly factoring in the support services provided from the US.

Can we say that all of this is really necessary to our security?

While we are thinking about “security”, is our security to be found overseas guarding other countries? Or, should we be thinking about our security as a nation as perhaps better identified by the health of our society. Do we have reasonable access to jobs paying living wages, housing, education, healthcare, and transportation? Are we doing a good job raising our children and insuring that they have opportunities to reach their individual potentials? Are the vast majority of the population living on the same old wages for the past thirty years while a tiny minority become richer to ever more absurd extremes?

This sense of security is obviously a subject of debate and the answers involve us as individuals, families, local government and non-profits as well as state and Federal resources in a complicated mix. But, can we afford to continue the Cold War empire of a vast military? Is our security to be found in such distant places?

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.

Remarks on President Obama’s Speech on Accepting The Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo 12/10/2009

President Obama’s speech on accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 2009 has generally been reviewed in the US with much glow about its rhetorical heights and appreciation of its depth of thought. I did not watch Obama give this speech. Instead, I turned to the text which I could read at my leisure and without the speechifying fireworks that Obama has clearly mastered.

Although I seem stuck in a reflexive backward glance towards the eight disastrous years of Bush II whenever I evaluate Obama. I am still amazed at the enormous moral and practical abyss we fell through in those years. Obama brushing his teeth in the morning is reassuring in contrast. Nevertheless,  it is worth looking a bit more closely at what Obama did and did not say here. Much has been said of his straight forward assertion that violence is necessary and even useful in a world inhabited by human beings who seem almost genetically predisposed to killing each other off. And, with the invocation of Martin Luther King and the discussion of just war theory, he covers well worn territory, though it is cheering to have a sitting US President talk in this fashion. Continue reading

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/ []