More Money Down the Military Drain

by Mac Lawrence

May 9, 1999



If you were setting Federal government spending priorities, would you choose to develop new, more sophisticated, more expensive weapons to wipe out the Russians? Would you spend $63 billion to buy 30 new attack submarines-whose sole purpose is to find and destroy Russian submarines-when we already have 65 attack submarines that are highly effective? Would you spend $35 billion to build 339 F-22 fighter jets when you already have 1,049 F-15 fighters that are the best in the world?

That's apparently what is in store for the American taxpayer. The 1999 military budget is $271 billion. For 2000, President Clinton proposes to add $12 billion in new military spending, and $110 billion over the next six years. Given that Congress over the last four years added $30 billion more to the Pentagon's budget than the Administration asked for, and that "rebuilding" the military is high on the Republican's list of goals, great years lie ahead for military contractors.

There are critics, however, of the planned new weapons. Among them is the group of retired admirals and generals at the Center for Defense Information (CDI) who say our military budget is too large and that we're buying weapons we don't need. "Without a thorough re-examination of our national security interests," they say, "the U.S. will be ill-prepared to face the actual challenges of the 21st century. More weapons to prepare for WW III will not make Americans more secure."

Another who spoke out recently, and from within the Pentagon itself, is Franklin Spinney. Mr. Spinney, who spent eight years in the Air Force before joining the Pentagon, first broke ranks in the 1980s saying that President Reagan's defense spending would not make the military any stronger. Today, commenting on increases in military spending, he is quoted in The New York Times. as saying it is "a horrible thing....All it's going to do is reward the pathological behavior that's creating the problem."

Explaining what they refer to as 'Mr. Spinney's apostasy,' the Times writes: "The Pentagon plans to spend billions of dollars to build new weapons that have become so costly that it cannot buy enough of them to replace today's arsenal. That means tomorrow's military will have to get by with fewer new weapons, while relying on older weapons to last longer. Meanwhile, the cost of operating the advanced weapons keeps rising. He [Spinney] calls this the 'defense death spiral.'" In effect, we're in an expensive technological arms race against ourselves.

In his new book, Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace, William Greider, describes the development of increasingly sophisticated weapons as a form of cannibalism. What happens, he observes, is that the newer weapons make obsolete weapons we already have that are highly advanced, and which are then sold on the cheap to other countries who we hope are-and still will be in the future-our friends. The reality exists, however, that our cast-off weapons could end up in the wrong hands, even used against us. He cites Afghanistan as an example.

In an editorial, "Seven Costly Myths about National Defense," which appeared in the San Jose Mercury, Lawrence Korb, Director of Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former assistant secretary of defense under President Reagan, says that President Clinton and his national security advisors have accepted uncritically seven assumptions that could waste $100 billion over the next five years. One of the myths he debunks is that defense spending is too low. In real terms, Korb notes, defense spending during Clinton's first term averaged 88 percent of what we spent from the end of Vietnam to the end of the Cold War. Another myth he debunks is the Joint Chiefs of Staff's claim of a $150 billion gap between what the military is asked to do and the resources to do it. "Since the end of WW II," he points out, "the Joint Chiefs have always claimed that there was a gap. In fact, by historical standards, a $150 billion gap is comparatively small. Even in the halcyon days of the Reagan buildup, the military leaders complained about a gap, which they estimated to be about $500 billion. Had we listened to them during the Cold War, we would have spent several trillion dollars more to prevail in that conflict."

In debunking the remaining myths, Korb maintains that we are spending enough on operations and maintenance and our readiness is not declining; the armed services have not lowered the quality standards for recruits, nor do they have a personnel retention problem; and we can be a great power and protect our worldwide interests without being able to fight two major theater wars simultaneously.

CDI's new director, Dale Bumpers, a former U.S. senator from Arkansas, has harsh words for another pet Congressional project-Star Wars, the national missile defense system. Writing in The Los Angeles Times: Bumpers notes: "Perhaps no single program provides a clearer, more powerful illustration of huge sums of money being wasted [in President Clinton's] proposal than [this system] to which he proposes to add $6.6 billion. In Cold War language that is reminiscent of 'bomber gaps,' 'missile gaps,' and 'windows of vulnerability,' we are being told that it is necessary to prepare defenses against a handful of missile warheads fired at America by a rogue state or terrorist group. In truth, this is the least likely threat of attack on the United States."

It's highly unlikely, Bumpers believes, that any of the countries the Pentagon designates as rogue states could develop a reliable intercontinental range ballistic missile. Even if they could, they would have a very difficult time fitting the missile with a proper warhead. And even if they could do that, there are cheaper, easier ways for them to set off a nuclear device in the U.S. Bumpers also points out the technical problems the U.S. faces in designing a workable Star Wars system, noting that we've tried to produce one for 15 years with little success.

Finally, Bumpers says, our Star Wars system would violate the U.S.-Russian Antiballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 which, he notes, "has been the solid foundation of all arms-control efforts for the past 27 years. If we violate it, in spite of strong Russian objections, we virtually assure not only the end of arms reduction efforts but we jeopardize the very positive progress of the U.S. Russia Cooperative Threat Reduction program. Funded by Congress, through the Nunn-Lugar Act, it is our best hope to deal with the 'loose nuke' problem in Russia." Russia, he says, is now weak but it will be a great global power again one day, so why take the chance of rekindling the Cold War with a hostile nation; rather, produce a constructive relationship with a cooperative Russia.

Gary Chapman, director of the 21st Century Project at the University of Texas at Austin, looks at new weaponry from a moral standpoint. Writing in The Los Angeles Times, he observes that each of the past centuries has "been defined by singular and historic moral projects that affected the world's entire population. In the 20th century, the universal moral project has been expanding civil and human rights and ending racism." Chapman says a worthy candidate for the 21st century would be "severing the relationship between scientific-technological progress and the means of war.

"If the 20th century is remembered for anything, it will certainly be for the introduction of vast advances in the ways we kill one another-for nuclear weapons, mass-produced biological and chemical weapons, bombers, tanks, machine guns, ad infinitum. This is the historical blight that must be corrected, and this will require jettisoning the stubbornly held idea that people and nations will always seek better and more deadly weapons."

Published May 9, 1999
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