The Pentagon is following a slew of incongruous goals for the future. While the last Quadrennial Review by the Pentagon put the focus on fighting insurgent-generated, brushfire wars, the U.S. continues to build land, sea and air war fighting machines better suited to a Cold War past. The U.S. is also continuing the kind of electronic/robotic warfare pushed hard by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, while developing and purchasing a deadly inventory of conventional weaponry. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has a command for putting weapons in space and it continues to spend billions each year to try to fulfill Ronald Reagan’s fantasy of an effective defense against ballistic missiles — over $150 billion to now and counting.
What Should Obama Have Done or Started to Do?
If the Randall Forsberg military budget plan, previously alluded to, were implemented starting with the FY 2013 budget, the ten-year savings would be massive and the result would be a greatly slimmed down military force.
Barack Obama could have announced when he entered office that if given two terms, he would remove all foreign U.S. military bases on a Pentagon-prepared priority schedule. The number of overseas U.S. military bases is a question even the Pentagon can’t answer; however, estimates usually hover at a total of 800- to 1,000-plus in at least 144 countries. One of the problems in determining exact numbers is that there are many so-called “lily pad” bases with small numbers of servicemen and women. Excluding Iraq and Afghanistan,some 200,000 service members are stationed overseas, with another 20,000 sailors and Marines stationed abroad ships and submarines.
The immensity of paying for this overseas deployment is illustrated most dramatically by the Pentagon’s admission that the true cost of getting one gallon of gasoline to Afghanistan is $400 and the cost of keeping one service member in Afghanistan for a year costs $1 million.
Trying to make a comprehensive list of desirable cuts in military weaponry and personnel is beyond the scope of this blog and to try to do so would probably make for tedious reading; however, besides the elimination of overseas bases already described, two particularly needed reductions are in jet figthers and aircraft carriers.
Military aviation experts are in general agreement that if the U.S. had not started developing new jet fighters in the early 2000s, it would have had distinct global aerial superiority until at least the year 2020. In regard to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, the Pentagon announced a few months ago that the maintenance costs alone would reach a trillion dollars or more in 30 years. This cost would be added to the $382 billion development and production cost.
The U.S. has 11 aircraft carriers and no other nation has more than one. A decade ago, the cost of a single carrier was approaching $6 billion and the protection of such a costly investment requires a whole flotilla of ships.
The proposal, then, would be to stop building aircraft carriers, allot a carrier fleet each to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, one to the troublesome Middle East and keep one carrier in reserve. The other seven would be mothballed.
It should be noted that the recommendation to phase out all overseas bases echoes a recommendation made by the Boston Study Group, a team of defense analysts noted for their their wide-ranging analysis of U.S. military spending. Furthermore, the recommendation to mothball seven carrier groups mirrors a seven-carrier cut proposed about two decades ago by defense analysts consulting Scientific American magazine. Forbes magazine also weighed in in the early 1990s with calls for a military force structure costing about $100 billion less than the contemporary Pentagon spending figure.
Even with the sizable cuts in offensive weaponry, the major driver of Pentagon spending is the cost of personnel; therefore, none of the service members deployed from overseas would be replaced, nor would those whose main mission would be to supply them, as those missions would be no longer needed.
Likewise, the mothballing of much of the aircraft carrier fleet would allow a reduction in U.S. Navy personnel, as would a reduction in Air Force personnel follow from a sizable reduction in jet fighters. The planned air wing of 2,400 F-35 jet fighters, for example, could be cut to 1,000 planes or even fewer.
Major savings are also possible in our nuclear arms inventory, as will be covered in the section on nuclear weapons.
Those who want to reduce the role of the military in U.S. life usually focus on the spending for a bloated Pentagon and the more beneficial societal uses which could be made of the money. There are a number of destructive effects caused by maintaining a large standing military:
1) Military spending tends to be inflationary because it doesn’t make things that consumers can buy or are socially useful;
2) The military is a voracious consumer of resources, particularly oil, aluminum, copper, nickel and platinum;
3) The military employs an inordinate number of the nation’s oceanographers, physicists and engineers — aeronautical, astronautical, electrical and electronic;
4) The military is the biggest single-source polluter in the world; and
5) Military expenditures are a very poor job creator.
On this last point, Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Pelitier of the University of Massachusetts calculate that $1 billion spent on the military creates 11,600 jobs; tax cuts for personal consumption creates 14,800 jobs; clean energy creates 37,100 jobs; health care services creates 19,600 jobs; and educational services creates 29,100 jobs. Other economists may disagree with the specific numbers provided above but are in general agreement that military spending is a very poor job creator.
Why is military spending such a poor job creator? A large share of military spending is done overseas or spent on imported goods; also, more of the military dollar goes to capital, as opposed to labor. For example, only 1.5 percent of the price of each F-35 fighter for “manufacture, fabrication and assembly” goes to workers at the plane’s main production facility in Fort Worth, Texas.
Overall, the Council of Economic Priorities has found that the more a country spends on the military as a part of the economy, the slower the rate of economic growth, the higher the rate of unemployment and the slower the productivity growth.