The full-page ads in The Washington Post seem so reasonable. The military contractor Pratt & Whitney has been arguing that America doesn’t need to spend $485 million to develop a second engine for the F-35 jet fighter. It’s a compelling argument. We’re in a serious economic crisis, so why on earth would we build another jet engine when the first one is sufficient?
Pratt & Whitney has supporters in high places. Pentagon Chief Robert Gates doesn’t want the second engine, which would be built by General Electric and Rolls Royce, and neither does his Air Force. President Obama, too, has come out against the unnecessary spending.
Pratt & Whitney isn’t spending hundreds of thousands of advertising dollars simply out of a spirit of fiscal rectitude. They’re the builders of the original F-35 engine, and they don’t want the competition muscling into their territory. Still, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is already a terrible boondoggle — Lockheed Martin recently confessed that the per-plane cost has nearly doubled since the initial estimate — so adding a second engine would be nonsense on stilts.
And yet, last week the House decided to risk a presidential veto by restoring funding for the second engine.
Yes, you read that correctly. The president and the Air Force don’t want the bloody thing. But Congress, which treats every weapon system like an endangered species, insists on keeping this vestigial program alive. The engine represents jobs, and U.S. politicians have a difficult time of saying no to jobs at the moment. Even Barney Frank (D-MA), who has taken the most courageous stand against military spending by calling for a 25 percent reduction in the Pentagon budget, voted in favor of the back-up engine because it meant jobs at the GE plant in his state.
If GE and Rolls Royce proposed to paint the F-35 pink with green polka dots, Congress would probably stand up and cheer the effort, as long as the initiative promised to employ enough people.
This engine vote comes at a particularly sad time. This Memorial Day weekend, the United States officially passed the trillion-dollar mark in spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We exceeded the cost of the Vietnam War several years ago, and now we’re heading for the record of most expensive conflict of all time.
The trillion-dollar war bill and the half-billion-dollar engine are connected in a way that goes beyond their status as budget items.
Last month, Gates took the opportunity of a speech at the Eisenhower Library in Kansas to call for a thorough scrutinizing of the Pentagon budget. “Eisenhower was wary of seeing his beloved republic turn into a muscle-bound, garrison state — militarily strong, but economically stagnant and strategically insolvent,” Gates said. Taking his cue from Obama, who warned of the military-industrial complex, Gates was willing to do his share of belt-tightening at this time of economic difficulty.
The Pentagon chief’s willingness to focus on waste and overhead and bureaucracy explains his opposition to the second F-35 engine (as well as C-17 cargo planes and a couple other Cold War weapons systems). But Gates — and many other fiscally responsible hawks — aren’t talking about reducing Pentagon spending so that we can afford universal health care or a real jobs bill. He wants to trim one part of the Pentagon budget in order to pad it somewhere else – namely America’s war-fighting capabilities. “The goal is to cut our overhead costs and to transfer those savings to force structure and modernization within the programmed budget,” Gates concluded. The Pentagon chief is going after those second engines so that he can continue to get the resources he needs to fight America’s wars.
But wait: Didn’t the Obama administration just release a new National Security Strategy that emphasizes diplomacy over war-fighting? U.S. troops are set to begin leaving Iraq this summer and Afghanistan next summer. So, a trillion dollars is the high-water mark of our “overseas contingency operations,” right? Not so fast.
Obama’s National Security Strategy (NSS) indeed lays to rest some of the nastier aspects of the Bush doctrine (such as torture and preemptive war), eschews imperial overstretch in favor of rebuilding economic security at home, advances a disarmament agenda, and recommends comprehensive engagement with the world based on respect for international law. A trillion dollars could go a long way toward achieving these goals. Toward that end, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support for a unified security budget would help to shift funds away from defense and toward development and diplomacy — just as we have proposed in our very own Unified Security Budget.
The NSS appears to put some limits on the use of force. For instance, it clarifies that the United States is fighting a war against al-Qaeda and its affiliates — not a war against a tactic (terrorism) or a religion (Islam).
But the NSS also lays out the rationale for the United States to remain engaged militarily in virtually every corner of the world. And that rationale is being played out on the ground. Consider how hard the Pentagon just fought to keep one military base in Okinawa — even though the Japanese government will likely crumble as a result of giving in to U.S. pressure. Consider the marked increase in drone attacks in Pakistan during the Obama era. Consider the increased U.S. military activities in Africa through AFRICOM. Consider the Patriot missiles and U.S. troops that just arrived in Morag, Poland, just 40 miles from the Russian border.
And that military engagement costs money. Congress is so addicted to the economic payouts from the military contractors that it can’t give up even the asterisk of all budget items, the second F-35 engine, even when so many of the members understand the absurdity of the situation. And Washington, in general, is so addicted to U.S. military control of the world that it can’t give up a single base or allied operation, even when the president, in his NSS, articulates all the reasons why a different, more cooperative approach makes more sense.
We are thus trapped in two illusions: that military spending creates jobs and that the U.S. empire makes us more secure. And these two illusions ensure that the United States continues to spend huge sums on war and the military budget in general.
Unless we do something about it.
This week, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute will release its annual figures on global military expenditures. The world is spending considerably more than a trillion dollars each year on the military (it was about $1.5 trillion in 2008). The United States is responsible for nearly half of this total. This can’t go on. Just like our production of greenhouse gases, we have hit the limit. Our emission of defense dollars is poisoning the planet, and the impending catastrophe is only a few degrees less apocalyptic than global warming.
We’ll be working with the International Peace Bureau in Switzerland on a Global Day Against Military Spending in 2011. If you want to get involved, let us know.
Can we stop the global military-industrial complex before it eats us all? That’s the trillion-dollar question.
Punishing the Guilty
The Thai government is under increased scrutiny for its bloody suppression of protestors on May 19 that left 80 dead and 1,800 injured. The United Nations is calling for an independent inquiry. The Thai government is facing a no-confidence vote.
The conflict between anti-government Red Shirts and pro-government Yellow Shirts is far from over. “The surrender of the Red Shirt leadership and the repatriation of thousands of rural folk to their provinces will certainly not end the Red Shirt challenge,” writes Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) columnist Walden Bello in The Battle for Thailand. “According to one pro-Red Shirt academic, the disaffected military, police, and government personnel that played a prominent role in the recent mobilizations will create a potent underground network that will provide leadership for the next phase of the struggle.”
Over 100 nations are meeting this week in Kampala, Uganda to talk about the International Criminal Court. The United States, which “unsigned” the treaty during the Bush years, has sent a delegation to Kampala. But, as FPIF contributor Don Kraus argues, the Obama administration can and should do more.
“The United States should increase cooperation with ongoing efforts to bring the world’s worst criminals to justice,” he writes in The Court of Last Resort. “The United States has stated its intention to support the Court, but it is time to follow through on that commitment. The United States can support the Court by sharing intelligence to help the Court’s prosecutor build cases against mass murderers. It can also help to protect victims and provide logistical support to speed up the judicial process. Finally, the United States should reinstate its signature to the Rome Statute before or during Kampala. This would mark a renewed U.S. relationship with the Court.”
Dealing with Africa
The United States tends to look at Africa in two ways: as a place to sell arms and a place to buy resources. Other countries — particularly China, Japan, and South Korea — look at Africa somewhat differently: as a place to make long-term investments.
“The United States can no longer rely so heavily on aid disbursement and strategic weapons sales to influence the path to development of East African Community members, but must instead be prepared to engage in constructive long-term investment that will demonstrate commitment to a prosperous future for Africa,” write FPIF contributors Marco Picardi and Hamish Stewart in Building Africa: Where’s the United States? “In light of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean trade overtures to East African leaders, the U.S. government has become but one choice among a growing list of development partners. As U.S. domestic economic growth continues to stagnate, the United States should build more constructive economic and political relations with Africa. Supporting the continent’s improved economic prospects is in U.S. interests as well.”
Finally, we have a Postcard from…Bhutan. “As Bhutan gains more confidence — as evident in it hosting the South Asian summit for the first time — greater freedom for its people is not too far away,” writes FPIF contributor Vishal Arora.