By Atilio A. Boron – Apr 10, 2023
There are several factors driving this exorbitant expansion of military spending in the United States.
Until a few years ago it was common to read what military experts and international analysts of the United States have written and conclude that, according to them, the total defense budget would never exceed the trillion-dollar mark. However, these calculations and projections suffered from a serious defect because they never included in the military budget the enormous expenses that originated in the medical and psychiatric care of the troops that returned from the “foreign wars” and that should be considered as military expenses since they originated in the combats waged in multiple parts of the earth.
But the proposal raised by President Joe Biden for the year 2024 easily exceeds that mark. Indeed, according to a report written by William Hartung, a systematic count of the item requested by the White House reaches, in a first evaluation, 866,000 million dollars. Yet, Hartung notes that Congress typically adds a few billion more to what the Administration is asking for, especially in situations like the current one where there is a war going on in Ukraine that is being almost entirely financed by the United States. Taking this situation into account, our author concludes that the budget that will surely be approved by Congress will rise to 950,000 million dollars. This includes funding for the Pentagon’s 750 publicly recognized military bases on every continent except Antarctica; 170,000 troops permanently stationed abroad and the personnel dedicated to counterterrorism operations officially conducted in 85 countries as reported by Brown University’s Costs of War Project. If to the former we add the 325,000 million dollars allocated for the Department of Veterans Affairs for the next year we will learn that the supposedly unattainable mark of one trillion dollars has been largely surpassed.
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In principle, there are several factors driving this exorbitant expansion of military spending in the United States. In the first place, Washington’s pretense of continuing to be the global sheriff of the world is trying to reverse the undeniable decline of its supremacy in the various areas of the international scene. This claim is reiterated without pause by all American presidents, a country whose citizens believe they have been called by the Providence (thus with a capital P) to sow democracy, justice, and freedom throughout the planet. This messianism that hides imperial rapacity plays a very important role in justifying this gigantic volume of the defense budget. But this factor is combined with another one: the intimate link between the “military-industrial-financial” complex (and that of “financial” is an aggregate of recent decades, which was not considered in President Dwight Eisenhower’s classic 1961 farewell speech) and the obscene private financing of the American political process. In it, the huge companies in that sector (the “big five”: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamic) literally buy at will the wills of congressmen, governors, and presidents by making huge contributions for their expensive political campaigns.
The progressive NGO Open Secrets, which monitors political campaign spending, cites a report issued by Taylor Giorno that shows that the new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Mike Rogers (R-AL) received more than $511,000 from weapons makers in the most recent election cycle, while Ken Calvert (R-CA), the new head of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, followed close behind at $445,000. There are no words emphatic enough to underscore the degree of structural corruption that this situation implies for US politics. It is also understandable, as Hartung points out, that the military and diplomatic bureaucracy of that country goes out of its way to find enemies that justify the insane volume of military spending. Thus, a report released by the National Defense Strategy late last year managed to find the potential for overlapping the conflict virtually everywhere on the planet and called for preparations to win a war with Russia and/or China, inciting fights against Iran and North Korea, and continue to wage a global war on terror, which, in recent times, has been redubbed “countering violent extremism.” Let us say that the Rogers and Calvert cases are just two to which hundreds could be added in the years after World War II.
A third element that drives military spending is, without a doubt, the radical instability that has shaken the international system, paradoxically since the collapse of the Soviet Union. If before there was a “balance of terror” between the nuclear weaponry of the United States and the USSR, now the multiplication of states that have nuclear arsenals and the suspicion that many non-state actors may also have this lethal weapon has boosted military escalation worldwide, although no one has reached the heights of United States figures. The People’s Republic of China for instance, which comes in second place in defense budgets, spends some 225 billion dollars for this purpose, less than the American Veteran Department and a quarter of the total defense budget of the United States. No comments are needed to underline the risks of this weapons asymmetry.
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The conflicts and hazards that emanate from the sheriff and tutelary self-assigned role of Washington as the dominant global power burst in with all their might during the bygone years of unipolarism, at the end of the past century, by the conservative theorist Samuel P. Huntington. In his own words, he asserted that …“[In] the past few years the United States has, among other things, attempted or been perceived as attempting more or less unilaterally to do the following: pressure other countries to adopt American values and practices regarding human rights and democracy; prevent other countries from acquiring military capabilities that could counter American conventional superiority; enforce American law extraterritorially in other societies; grade countries according to their adherence to American standards on human rights, drugs, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, missile proliferation, and now religious freedom; apply sanctions against countries that do not meet American standards on these issues; promote American corporate interests under the slogans of free trade and open markets; shape World Bank and International Monetary Fund policies to serve those same corporate interests; intervene in local conflicts in which it has relatively little direct interest; bludgeon other countries to adopt economic policies and social policies that will benefit American economic interests; promote American arms sales abroad while attempting to prevent comparable sales by other countries; expand NATO initially to include Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic and no one else; undertake military action against Iraq and later maintain harsh economic sanctions against the regime; and categorize certain countries as “rogue states,” excluding them from global institutions because they refuse to kowtow to American wishes.”[i]
It goes without saying that when a superpower acts in this way, it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the nations, or at least the major power contenders, will try to put an end to such an infamous situation and struggle so as to build a more equitable and stable international order. Unfortunately, neither the war in Ukraine and the ones that are being fought in Nagorno-Karabakh, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Ethiopia, and The Sahel, nor the economic and military resilience of Russia nor the growing global weight of China in the world economy and the international politics allow us to assume that the American escalation of military spending is going to stop. This exceptional and regrettable militaristic race unleashes a reflex effect among the main world powers, which places our planet on the threshold of a nuclear apocalypse. In that ominous situation, there would be no winners because everyone, even those who are the first to initiate a nuclear attack, would be mortal victims of a tragedy that could put an end to humanity all around the globe.
[i] “The Lonely Superpower”, in Foreign Affairs, Mar/Apr 1999, Vol. 78, Issue 2
Atilio A. Borón is a Harvard Graduate professor of political theory at the University of Buenos Aires and was executive secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). He has published widely in several languages a variety of books and articles on political theory and philosophy, social theory, and comparative studies on the capitalist development in the periphery. He is an international analyst, writer and journalist and profoundly Latinoamerican.
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