Thursday, May 4, 2006

I hope we see much, much more of this

This is the kind of thing we need to see a lot more of:  Report criticizes Pentagon budget priorities by Drew Brown, Knight Ridder 05/03/06.

Just getting out of Iraq and avoiding new preventive wars is the most obviously urgent security priority for the United States, although I normally consider nuclear nonproliferation the most important overall security issue.  The military needs to have a sensible mission, i.e., something very different than the Bush Doctrine.  And the military budget needs to fit those priorities.

Drew Brown reports:

The report, issued Wednesday by the Task Force on a Unified Security Budget for the United States, singles out such programs as the F-22 stealth fighter jet, the Virginia-class submarine, the DD(X) destroyer, the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the C-130J cargo plane as having "scant relevance to the threats we face" and recommends that they be eliminated or reduced significantly.

The group also recommends:

- Slashing the U.S. nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 600 operational warheads, while keeping another 400 in reserve.

- Eliminating the Trident II nuclear missile.

- Halting further deployment of a national ballistic-missile defense system, but maintaining a basic research program.

- Canceling further research into space-based weapons. (my emphasis)

Until someone convinces me differently, I view the Star Wars "missile defense" program as the biggest financial boondoggle in the history of humanity.  The money wasted on that is unbelievable.

The study being reported does not examine the current war spending for the Iraq and Afghan Wars.  But they do make some recommendation for shifting some of the currently badly-allocated funds:

The group didn't look at the administration's supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It said that excluding war spending, the military budget will absorb six times as much money as all other nonmilitary security programs, including diplomacy, foreign aid, homeland securityand efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

It suggested that Congress shift money from military spending and double the amount spent on improving port security and providing more resources to firefighters, police and other first responders. It also proposed doubling the amount spent on nonproliferation efforts, foreign aid and other diplomatic programs. None of the money would come out of current war spending.

The report is available online:  A Unified Security Budget for the United States, 2007 by Miriam Pemberton and Lawrence Korb 05/03006, Foreign Policy in Focus Web site.

Pemberton and Korb dramatize the degree to which American foreign policy has become militarized, i.e., foreign policy is increasingly driven by military policy and not vice  versa.  They write in their Executive Summary:

As it is portrayed in the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy doctrine, our military is a co-equal partner with our diplomatic corps, our development agency and our homeland security department. The text speaks of pursuing national security by championing aspirations for human dignity, strengthening alliances, defusing regional conflicts, and expanding development. In the section on "key national security institutions," the Department of Defense (DOD) is third on the list.

This portrayal is possible because the document makes no mention of budgets. Even excluding what we will spend this year on the wars we are actually fighting, our regular military budget will absorb six times the money we will spend on all non-military security tools - including diplomacy, foreign aid, nonproliferation, and homeland security - put together. When war spending is included, the gap jumps to more than eight to one.

They place their budget recommendations in that context, also:

This report shows how this can be done. It identifies nearly $62 billion in cuts to the regular defense budget mostly to weapons systems that have scant relevance to the threats we face, and therefore can be eliminated or scaled back with no sacrifice to our security because the war in Iraq is funded by supplemental appropriations. And it identifies $52 billion to be added to the budgets for the tools of defense and prevention. This shift would partially demilitarize our national security strategy by turning the current six-to-one military-to-non-military balance into a better balance of three to one. That is, it would double the proportional amount our government devotes to its non-military security tools.

This report is a good illustration of why the Democrats have got to stop cringing over defense policy.  Over the last few decades, support for national defense has been equated to support for military budgets.  But bad budget priorities can hurt national security more than help it.  The report gives several examples, including the Star Wars boondoggle:

The recent flare-up of concern over foreign management of U.S. ports creates an opening for the real issues of port security to be given the attention they deserve. Though the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has concluded that weapons of mass destruction are most likely to enter the United States by sea, we will spend four times more deploying a missile defense system that has failed most of its tests than we will spend on port security.

The level of the Star Wars scam is truly mind-boggling.

Admittedly, some of this stuff is easier to process (and more interesting!) for financial geeks than for others.  But it's still important for the future.  Having enough people understand this and be committed to changing it is critical if the post-Iraq War developments in the US military budget are going to be a realistic approach to American military power which recognizes sensible limits and promotes international cooperation in both peace and war rather than wrecking international institutions and proclaiming a unilateral US right to launch preventive wars.  They write:

Recent history also suggests that some of these [Pentagon] increases are more likely to survive the appropriations process than others. While many weapons systems are protected by a web of subcontracts carefully laid across as many congressional districts as possible, diplomacy, foreign aid and the institutions of international cooperation enjoy no such protections. When Congress finally settled its fiscal affairs for 2006, the international affairs budget had been cut by $2.3 billion below the request level, with Diplomatic and Consular Programs and Contributions to International Organizations taking especially big hits. The administration accepted these cuts with little resistance and no veto threats.

More importantly, the increases in the budget request leave in place the central fact about this president's foreign affairs spending portfolio: it remains overwhelmingly dominated by a military approach to security. Eighty-three percent of its resources are allocated to the military; about 11 percent to homeland security; and about 6 percent to international affairs (my emphasis)

This is also something war critics need to stay aware of, as we hear more and more retired generals criticizing the Bush administration's policies.  While they may have some excellent points - they do - some of them may also be lobbying to go back to the pre-9/11 status quo ante, in which the military services got bloated budgets that pumpled plenty of public funds to Halliburton and other military contractors but were not the right kind of expenses to stop the attacks we actually experienced on 9/11 or to win the wars that we're actually fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Pemberton and Korb in this paper are not making a "guns vs. butter" argument.  They argue instead:

The United States simply cannot afford to waste increasingly scarce taxpayer dollars on unnecessary and underperforming components of American military forces at the expense of the nation's non-military national security tools. ...

The United States needs its military to deter threats and defeat its military adversaries. But the overwhelming majority of the threats facing the country today do not have military solutions. Countering these threats instead requires the United States to marshal the non-military components of the country's national security toolkit. For instance, while the United States must have the military capability to destroy terrorist training camps, military power will not erode the appeal of terrorism, roll back financial support for terrorists, or deny terrorists access to fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons, or win the war of ideas against the radical jihadists.

The Democrats can and should make a central issue out of wrongheaded military spending.  Pemberton and Korb write:

According to the most reliable estimates, the United States spends twenty-two times more on its military than Russia and more than seven times that of China. These countries are modernizing their militaries, but show no desire to match U.S. conventional military power. Even if one of these countries wanted to match U.S. conventional power, it is by no means certain that it could--at a minimum, it would take a decade or more of significantly higher defense spending just to match U.S. defense budgets, not to mention the difficulty of closing the technological gap with the United States.

Nevertheless, the U.S. national security budget is dominated by weapons systems designed to fight a military peer, and fails to devote sufficient resources to the capabilities that are essential to countering 21st century threats. Although the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review delineates that the two highest priorities for the military are defeating terrorist networks and defending the homeland, at least $22 billion of the current defense budget goes for research, development or procurement of weapons systems that are better designed to defeat a military peer competitor rather than conduct operations against terrorist organizations and extreme regimes. According to Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, the price tag for the Pentagon's top five procurement programs grew 46 percent over the last four years. These weapons, although technologically advanced, are excessive and uneconomical for the task at hand, or grossly underperforming to a degree that they are unlikely to be effective in combat.  (my emphasis)

This is a very useful paper.  I like their terminology of "conflict prevention".  Preventive diplomacy is much more cost-effective than preventive war.

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