Shaky Assumptions About Military Spending

By Betsy Crites

Fear can be a great motivator – and a great manipulator. Those who oppose cuts to military funding play on our fears to convince us that any reduction in the defense budget would be a dangerous threat to our national security and to our economy. But is this level of panic justified? An examination of the assumptions that underlie the fears will expose just how shaky those assumptions are.

Shaky Assumption 1: The U.S. must control, by force, the air, seas, and land of the entire planet.

Why such overwhelming military power? The United States spends more on our military than our next 14 military competitors combined — six times more than China, 13 times more than Russia, and 73 times more than Iran. While we funnel roughly half of our discretionary tax dollars into military programs, China is capturing the market for solar panels. Most countries are fearlessly investing in health care and education for their citizens while the U.S. is pulling funding from those very hallmarks of a great society. The result is that the U.S. now ranks 37th on health indicators and our students rank 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math.

Shaky Assumption 2: We need high priced weapons systems such as the F-15 and the “advanced multi-role stealth fighter jet” to keep us safe.

Our current “enemies” have no air force and no navy, and it is a stretch to claim that terrorists even have an army. The Rand Corporation, a think-tank allied with U.S. government military and intelligence forces, concluded that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. Since 1968, only 7 percent of all terrorist groups were taken down by military force. In contrast, 40 percent of those groups were defeated through police and intelligence work, and 43 percent gave up their terrorist tactics as they were integrated into the political process.

Shaky Assumption 3: The military is a good jobs program.

According to analysts at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, spending $1 billon on education and mass transit would produce more than twice as many jobs as spending $1 billion on defense. Spending on healthcare and construction for home weatherization and infrastructure would produce about 1-1/2 times as many jobs. The Pentagon spends $1 million a year to field a soldier in Afghanistan. With that same amount, we could hire nearly 30 teachers for a year. Additionally, many jobs learned in the military do not translate to civilian employment, so the jobless rate for returning veterans is far higher than for the general population.

Shaky Assumption 4: Reducing military industries will hurt our economy.

Many people are employed by military contractors and in service industries near military bases, but does our economic health depend on this? Military spending has grown by 81 percent in the past decade, the period of the worst recession since World War II. Clearly, high military spending is not the key to our economic well-being. People employed in weapons industries, making products that kill people and destroy property and ecosystems, could just as well be working in jobs that improve our communities and our quality of life here at home.

Shaky Assumption 5: We need the military for innovations such as the microwave oven, the GPS and the Internet.

The U.S. military has a very large budget to fund research and development, but innovation can, and does, come from anywhere. On June 26, 100 university presidents from across the U.S. sent a letter to President Obama calling for an easier path to permanent resident status for foreign students. Why? Because they found that of the 1,500 patents awarded to the top 10 patent-producing universities in the U.S., three-quarters had at least one foreign inventor. All-told they represented 88 countries.

Rather than triggering that old “fight or flight response “at the mere mention of reducing military spending, let’s develop a new adaptive “stop and think” response. We will survive a reduction in military spending. We could even thrive if we redirected our tax dollars to productive and innovative ways of improving the well-being of our citizens and the world at large.  Φ

Betsy Crites lives in Durham, NC. She is former director of NC Peace Action and remains a member and supporter of that organization. This article was published as a Letter to the Editor of the Durham Herald Sun.

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