Now, 51 years later, the Department of Defense (DoD) budget sits at 687.1 billion dollars annually. To be clear, this does not include Homeland Security, Federal law enforcement, Veteran's Affairs, or any other extraneous programs. This is just Defense spending. To illustrate the size of that expenditure, it's larger than the next top 24 national defense spenders in the world (that number includes China, Japan, Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, England, and many others) combined. Not only that, but we spend a higher percentage of our GDP (4.7%) than any other nation outside of the Middle East. Some people are tempted to point at the need to stay competetive with those nations because there's an assumption that those monies are funneled into terrorist organizations. To illustrate the problem with that kind of thinking (other than the fact that it's an assumption, of course) is that the U.S. economy is roughly triple the size of even the largest middle eastern nation's (Saudi Arabia).
The debate over defense spending, which is roughly 20% of our national federal budget each year, is whether we actually need to spend so heavily on our military to stay secure, and stay ahead of other nations in terms of technology, strategy, intelligence, and personnel. I'll say right now that the answer is definitively no, we do not. We are a nation at war, that's true. We've deployed over 30,000 troops in Afghanistan and have integrated our military (i.e. establish bases, military occupation, embassies) into 192 nations across the globe. It, understandably, takes a lot of money to maintain that kind of network. However, what's uncertain is just exactly how much. The extent and breadth of our military engagement obfuscates its real cost.
When we down-sized and eventually pulled active military operations form Iraq, defense spending did not decrease. In fact, it increased as a result of war debt. According to the DoD's 2010 Budget report, nearly a quarter of defense spending now goes to debt and interest from wars and operations. It doesn't stop there, either. Between 2007 and 2010 spending went up another $100 billion dollars, and the defense request for 2012 is to increase from 687.1 to 707 billion. If we're downsizing active operations, and the troop pullback from Afghanistan is imminent, why are we spending more than we did (adjusted for inflation) than we did in Vietnam, throughout the entire Cold War, and even in 2007 in Iraq? No, spending 1/5 of our entire national budget on defense is not a necessity but a carefully orchestrated fleecing of taxpayers' dollars.
Here's how it works: The armed forces contract with corporations to build, research, or develop technologies, armaments, vehicles, etc. for military operations. These corporations make millions, often billions, of dollars from taxpayers for these contracts. The corporations, in an effort to keep these contracts coming, donate to political candidates campaign funds. These politicians, in return for the campaign funds, authorize increased spending for defense. The defense department, with the increase in funds, can then put out more contracts. This cycles continues until, as is now, billions of dollars are being funneled into multi-national corporations. The relationship has become even more cozy as some of our most prominent national leaders have actually purchased stock in these contracted corporations, and are making dividends on the deals. In this way our federal procurement system, particularly for military expenditures, has become a systemic, international racket.
The Bush Administration was a time of unfettered growth for the iron trangle. George W. Bush had close ties with top national defense contractor Lockheed Martin (top of the list in defense contracts), whom he had attempted to entrust with Texas' welfare state as governor. (Welfare in the hands of a military corporation? You can't make that stuff up.) Bush also appointed the VP of Lockheed Martin as the finance chair his Presidential Campaign. Similarly, Dick Cheney spent years running Halliburton's oil operations (18th in defense contracts) and his wife sat on the Board with Lockheed Martin, for which she was paid $120,000. There were, all told, 32 appointees in the Bush administration who were executives, consultants, or major shareholders for defense contracted corporations. In case you're wondering, the Democrats aren't guiltless either. The Clinton administration increased defense spending almost as much as the Reagan and Bush administrations.
The military-industrial complex relationship became even more insidious with the passage of the Citizens United judgement by the Supreme Court in 2009, which allows corporations (considered citizens in the eyes of the law) unlimited spending on campaign advertising as a component of their 1st and 14th amendment rights. Today, the connections are less well-documented, but many of teh individuals that were in office then, are still writing budgets today. In an era of economic recession, joblessness, and deep cuts in spending, the Defense budget continues to be anathema to politicians and their corporate financiers. As federal and state governments attempt to strip money from public services like education and welfare in an effort to balance budgets, many are simultaneously taking advantage of a national security scare and lining their own pockets with campaign funds and stock dividends. In fact, the War on Terrorism has been the most profitable goernment venture to date.
It will never be necessary for us to invest fully one fifth of national budget in defense to remain "secure". As Dwight Eisenhower warned in 1961, "We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow." The seemingly endless profits of this nefarious relationship are not without cost to our country, our integrity, and our future. It is only profitable as long as there is military conflict, and even for the most cynical Americans, there must be a hope for peace in our future. Without debunking and dismembering this unethical trading of favors and money, we can never hope for that future to come.
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