“Slowing the Military Spending Surge”

A leaked document from the Pentagon at the beginning of the new year seemed to mark a milestone. For years, the budget planners have simply added money for new weapons, and more money for actual wars, to spending for all the Cold-War-era systems already in the pipeline. The document seemed to signal that the Pentagon was finally acknowledging the need to make choices. It laid out an array of cuts that would slow the recent surge in military spending.

For a variety of reasons, this milestone is more symbolic than real. And the debate over how much will be cut, and when, and why, begs the question: for what? A diverse, growing and bipartisan collection of voices, beginning with those on the 9/11 commission, is calling attention to the deficits in U.S. budgeting for security that reach beyond the traditional tools of military force.

Let’s first be clear that the military budget is not being cut at all, at least as we ordinary mortals understand the term “cutting.” The Pentagon won’t be spending less next year than this year. It’s proposing cuts to the increases previously planned for next year. The overall defense budget will continue to rise. And spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue to be funded with extra money “off the books.”

The Pentagon’s choices for cuts are mostly judicious. A year ago, I co-directed a task force of security experts that identified seven weapons systems that could be canceled or reduced without impinging on U.S. security. The administration plans reductions in all of them.

But it is shaving, not cutting. The task force document, titled “A Unified Security Budget for the United States,” explained why the F/A-22 fighter jet and the DD(X) destroyer programs are unnecessary and could safely be canceled. The administration plans to scale them back slightly. Most of the cuts won’t even happen for several more years, during which time defense industry lobbyists will try to make sure they never happen. And the entire $6 billion in planned savings on military spending in next year’s budget will be eaten up by about a month’s operations in Iraq.

The combination of a war the U.S. government should never have begun and tax cuts the nation can’t afford means that critical investments in our security are in danger once again of going begging. The “Unified Security Budget” argued for rebalancing our security spending priorities toward such nonmilitary tools as economic development aid, diplomacy and international cooperation to curb the spread of dangerous weapons. This became one of the 9/11 commission’s major recommendations. The task of combating terrorism, the commission said, required increasing investment in the full range of diplomatic, development and humanitarian tools at our disposal.

A broad coalition called the U.S. Campaign for Global Leadership has formed to support these goals through increases in the International Affairs portion of the federal budget. The campaign’s literature points out that this budget, which funds most of these nonmilitary security tools, represents only about 1 percent of total federal spending. Yet the budget Congress passed at the end of 2004 failed to fund these programs even at the modest level of the president’s request. The campaign includes 10 former secretaries of defense and state, eight former national security advisers and such nongovernmental organizations as CARE and Save the Children.

It also, by the way, includes Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, two of the world’s largest defense contractors. Here’s why. The largest pot of money in the international affairs budget provides nearly $5 billion for foreign military financing. This program adds billions in to the defense contractors’ bottom lines, by subsidizing overseas weapons sales. The contractors then use the presence of late model U.S. weapons around the world in their pitches to Congress for the even-more-pricey models they want to build for the Pentagon.

The United States spends more on foreign military financing than its “diplomatic and consular programs.” And while the administration budgeted less money in 2005 than in 2004 for such programs as child survival and health, and peacekeeping operations, it budgeted more for foreign military financing.

To implement the rest of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations, Congress needs to increase funding for the international affairs budget. It also needs to readjust the priorities in that budget to emphasize its critical nonmilitary security tools.