The United States’ military budget has been increasing on an annual basis at an alarming rate, especially in the 21st century. While it is understandable that the united states has an extremely huge Gross Domestic Product (GDP) relative to the other economies of the world, still this is not reason enough to continue spending more money on our military, while other sectors of the economy such as education and healthcare, and which if not addressed have the potential to impact negatively on the American citizens (these includes for instance, healthcare and education), do not experience an equally increase in budgetary allocation.
Without doubt, the number of Americans in need of education is increasing everyday (Ince 2007), as are the Americans who are without medical insurance, those who are homeless, and those in need of Social Security services. From such a perspective, the aim of this research paper is to uncover the issue of our military spending, in view of the recent economic downturn that has dealt us a heavy blow. Further, this research paper also seeks to offer a justification of why we need to minimize our spending on the military, yet not jeopardize the potential threat to domestic and national security. This is a form of a balancing act, and a tricky one at that, but which we all need to explore, lest the future shall judge us harshly for not having explored this option today.
The 21st-century relationship among national security, military spending, and economic growth, from the perspective of the United States
At the start of October 2008, Robert Gates, the United States Secretary of Defense concurred that the new model of military spending that the United States have adopted for the later part of the 21st century has “grown ever more baroque, ever more costly, are taking longer to build, and are being fielded in ever dwindling quantities” (Press Release Washington 2008). The ensuing challenges have especially been worsened by what critics have termed as a reckless decision on the part of the United States to engage certain military decisions. Such is the situation with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This decision is estimated to have drained the United States coffers by between $1 and $3 trillion. With the current economic downturn having spread far and wide in the globe, a majority of the nations in the world have started to question both the strategic and economic leadership of the United States. Still, the Iraq war is not just an isolated case in which the United States has spent tax payers’ money is staggering quantities; money that would have been put to better use by expanding on the country’s budget spending in say, the healthcare of the nation or better still, to enhance the education sector.
Critics have also taken issue with the Bush Administration as regard their foreign policy, and the connection with what the United States is going through at the moment, in the name of an economic meltdown. Based on a fact that resources by nature, tend to be quite limited “the dynamic of exchanging numbers for capability is perhaps reaching a point of diminishing returns” (Press Release Washington 2008). Considering that our military spending has been in the increase year in, year out, we may be seen to have been stuck on an unbalanced situation in this case. Yet, there are times when more spending on the military has been justified. For example, at the height of the cold war, there was a need for the United States to maintain a huge presence overseas. The then president, George H. W. Bush, also sort to reduce the spending of the United States in the military following the end of the cold war. This was also the time of what came to be famously known as “peace dividend”. However, we shortly had a the change of guard in the White House and now with Clinton at the helm, we saw a steady rise on our military spending, in such projects as nation-building actions and “dual containment”.
The height of the military spending was following the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York, when President Bush declared “war on terror”. There are a few theories that have been used to justify the huge spending on the military by the United States. Such includes the collective action theory, and also the theory of hegemonic stability. According to arguments held in support of these two theories, it is the very dominance of the United States that apparently buttresses peace and stability within the world’s great powers (Shanker 2008). In addition, proponents to these theories have also argued that the military dominance of the United States helps to reinforce an open global economy, and maintain free sea lanes (an exception here would be the case at the Somali coastline). From such a perspective then, it is not that hard to see why the united stets would set aside a very huge portion of the country’s GDP towards military support, while other equally important sector such as education and health fail to receive a commensurate increase in financial spending.
Proponents of an increased spending on military have also observed that were the United States to cave in the requests to reduce the military budget, then some very vital interests of the United States stands to be jeopardized. What this implies therefore is that we are in a struck situation. There is also the other explanation on the increased military spending, which is a pointer to the liberal ideology to which the United States subscribes to, in addition to the nation’s sense of mission (Williams 2006). This is a view that holds that the reason why the United States spends so much on international military assignments is because we as a nation feel obliged to spread our ideology to the other nations of the world.
It is six years now since the United States declared war on Iraq. This, coupled with the snowballing spending by the United States on the “global war on terrorism”, and which has received the Congress approval, today exceeds $ 850 billion. These developments have raised concerns from not just the security experts, but also from the American citizens, who have had to dig deeper into their pockets to sustain an over-bloated military. Already, critics of the military spending are skeptical as to whether we are in a position to sustain the current levels of spending, going by the impact that the global economic crisis has had on us (Bennett 2008). We have at the moment a proposal which is being considered; that the annual defense budget ought to be tied to a given percentage of the Gross Domestic product (GDP) of the United States. Those in favor of this proposal have offered a recommendation that the defense budget be pegged on the “base” spending of the DOD (Department of Defense). This of course does not take into account extra allocation to the military operations underway in both Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the weapons activities carried out by the energy department. The proposed military spending stands at 4 percent the annual GDP of our nation.
At the close of 2007, the Arizona senator, John McCain, through an article that appeared in Foreign Affairs, wrote that we, as the United States, were capable of setting aside four cents (if not more) out of every dollar for purposes of national defense in the years to come. In the November of the same year (2007), Robert Gates, the defense secretary was quoted as having said that allocation 4 percent of the united states GDP to the department of defenses is a” benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense.” (Shanker 2008). These sentiments by the defense secretary would alter on ne echoed by Geoff Morrell, a spokes man with the Pentagon, who added that by having a benchmark of 4 percent of the GDP pegged on the defense budget, the United States could be well on its way to enhancing the protection of its global interests.
Although we already seem to be having a united front here amongst the top-echelons within the deference system, we still have in existence nuances; in as far as the positions of top policymakers go. For instance, the McCain campaign was seen to soften its position come July 2008, as was witnessed by comments made by John Lehman, an advisor to McCain and a former Secretary of the Navy, during an interview with National Journal, Lehman was quoted then as having said, “ John McCain doesn’t do budgeting by targets. The number will be what it will be after he has done the thorough analysis and programming and planning . . . . That may be three percent, it may be five percent, but he’s not aiming for a target” (Freedberg, 45). Coming from a top advisor of the Republican presidential candidate, what this tells us is that even amongst the advocates of the high level of spending by our defense, there is still a general feeling that we are straining our economy too much, thanks to our penchant for overspending, while other sectors that are equally crucial to the American citizens goes unattended. For example, would it not make sense to at least reduce on the military budget by for example, 25 percent, and attend to the increasing cases of homelessness amongst the Americans? Truth be told, the number of homeless people in the United States appears to have especially increased, as a result of the bursting of the housie mortgage bubble. Countless individuals lost their precious homes, along with the live investments.
Why we need to reduce our military spending
The United States alone accounts for well over 50 percent of the overall global spending on national security. China comes a distant second, with between 50 and 200 billion, according to some 2004 estimates (Higgs 2007). In third position is Russia, believed to spend between 15 and 50 billion. It may not seem that the $ 590 billion that the United States spends on national security is a “huge” number, seeing that it represents just well over 4 percent of our GDP (Frank 2009). Additionally, the current budget on national security is also below what we spent during for example, the cold war. Still, the spending on our national security may be said to be rather huge, at least on the basis of absolute standards. Perhaps a question that we ought to be asking ourselves here, especially in view of the nations’ predicament following the economic slump we are facing now, is whether we, as Americans stands to gain a good “ return on investment” from the military after having pampered the force with billions of dollars of our taxpayers money. At least with education, this may be different. The illiteracy levels are measurable quantitatively, and we can say fro a fact that we have increased for example, the school enrolments rates by so much.
By the same breath, we can also estimate the level of achievement following an increase spending on our health care system. We stand out to increase the life expectancy rates of the American citizens, along with a reliving of prolonged suffering to patients who have to make do without a health insurance. However, such an argument should not be taken to mean that we are better off without increasing the budgetary allocation. If anything, we cannot enjoy a robust economy when the citizens and investors alike are threatened from within and without our national borders. By extension, the international image of the United States would also fade in the face of a threat on our national security. As such, spending more on the military may be said to be an investment on safety and peace (Williams 2006). The intention of this observation is to pose a question here, would it be conceivable to assert that we the United States have to encounter many harsh threats to our national security that is more than the combined threat posed to all the other countries of the world, just like our defense budget?
The United States, unlike China, Russia, India or a majority of the countries in Europe, has enjoyed a period of peace and tranquility for a long time (Hammes 271). In fact, ever since the 19th century, we have been lucky enough not to have been invaded, save for the September 11 terror attacks. Furthermore we share our borders with democratic and friendly countries, and we have not been to war with them for over a century. We can only point to one country and its stockpile of nuclear weapons that is capable of threatening the lives of Americans. From this though, we can be able to draw a conclusion here that the United States seems to be experiencing a largely inflated fear of being attacked. Alternatively, we may also presume that the other nations of the world have sort to neglect the threats of that their citizens are exposed to by not investing much into the national security.
Clearly, matters of national security should not be taken lightly, as they are complex to fathom. For instance, whereas the United States may aspire to do the global public good by enhancing international security there are those nations that are already buying the idea that as opposed to helping them cope with matters of security, the United States is in fact adding to the miseries of their citizens (Hammes 271). At least during the cold war, no such comments were ever echoed. At the close of the 2008 financial year, government of the United States is estimated to have spent close to $ 800 billion on both homeland security and defenses. This represents about 30 percent of all the taxes that had been collected from taxpayers. A breakdown of this budget reveals that the defense department took the lion’s share, with $ 741 billion being allocated to it. On the other hand, homeland security took a partly $ 54 billion (Frank 2009).
Barney Frank, a Democrat Congressman from Massachusetts was quoted in February 2009 as having advocated for a reduction of the defense budget. According to Frank, “The math is compelling: if we do not make reductions approximating 25 percent of the military budget starting fairly soon, it will be impossible to continue to fund an adequate level of domestic activity even with a repeal of Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy. I am working with a variety of thoughtful analysts to show how we can make very substantial cuts in the military budget without in any way diminishing the security we need… [American] well-being is far more endangered by a proposal for substantial reductions in Medicare, Social Security or other important domestic areas than it would be by canceling weapons systems that have no justification from any threat we are likely to face.” (Frank 2009).
Robert Kegan, a Republican historian reckons that reducing the spending by the defense in 2009 may not be the ideal time. He argues that by cutting the spending by our defense department, we risk unnerving allies to the United States, in addition to curtailing attempts to receiving an increased cooperation in the years to come. The financial meltdown that appears to have affected the United States more than any other country has already sent a message to the other nations; that our finances are in jeopardy (Brooks 2009). There are an increasing number of people who are of the view that as a result of the financial crisis there is a chance that we may decide to pull out our soldiers who are on international duty. As such, Kegan argues that should we announce that we wish to reduce our spending on defense, this would act as a source of evidence to the larger world that indeed, the retreat by the United States is well on its way (Brooks 2009).
It is sad that when we require more congress members advocating for a substantial reduction on our military spending, only a handful of them appears to be doing so. The larger majority however, have even entertained the idea that one way through which we may reduce our national budget debate would be to reduce the amount of money that we send on Medicare, Social Security and Medicare, among other national programs supported by the taxpayers. Nonetheless, these proponents fail to point at a possible reduction of our military spending. Clearly, the staggering amount of budgetary allocation to the military may very well have a double impact in as far as the deficit reduction is concerned.
The former United States President, George W. Bush, was quoted as having attributed the financial woes that his administration seemed to have gotten into as having especially been exacerbated by the huge budgetary allocation to the military, although he somewhat has remained adamant over the issue. According to an article that appeared on Wall Street Journal on December 20, 2008, the writer asserted that President Bush partially convince that the ‘war on terror’, in addition to the Iraq war, have both greatly dented the United States’ treasury coffers (Freedberg 45).
Even without embarking on a debate here about the amount of money that the United States military spend relative to other nations, one cannot but realize that if we could reduce this budget by say, 25 percent, we would still remain a strong military force to reckon with. There is an unspoken agreement amongst those who are advocating for a military largesse that we may not entirely settle the case of our military spending if we are only worried about a physical attack on our citizens (Hormats 271). What may however be ironical here, hypocritical even, is that such proponents are in fact advocates of ‘weaponised Keynesianism’, as opposed to conservatives who are against the spending by our government.
The weaponised Keynesianism theory holds that spending on the military is beneficial, because it not only gives jobs to Americans, is also seeks to boost our economy. While it is true that military hardware does indeed create jobs, nevertheless this may not be argued to be one of the most effective ways of funds deployment, with a view to stimulating our economy (Mearsheimer 2001). Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve has also made his input as regards the issue of spending on our military, as a form of stimulating the economy. From an economic point of view, Greenspan has observed that spending on the military is akin to insurance. Spending on the military with a view to fulfilling its key objectives is a necessity, although this does not mean that is also good to our economy. Greenspan further notes that were we to reduce our military spending, then the overall economy stands to benefit.
Going by the rate at which our military expenditure is increasing on an annual basis, we may reach a point whereby as a nation, we could be unable to adequately finance certain domestic activities. At the moment, we seem to have borrowed the proposal that we dedicate 4 percent of the GDP of the United States to funding the military, because currently, it stands at 4.8 percent (Frank 2009). What is even more worrying is that as we continue increasing the military funds, more and more Americans are becoming homeless. In addition, the numbers of Americans who are without medical insurance covers have also sky-rocketed, along with those filling for Social Security support. From such a perspective therefore, there is a need for various thoughtful analyses, so that we can be able to come up with way in which the military budget may be substantially reduced and at the same time also not jeopardize the necessary security for Americans.
What we need here are policies, and a communication of the same to the Americas, so that they become aware that by proposing to cut-back on Social Security, Healthcare and Medicare, they are more prone to endangerment than would be the case if we were to say, issue a cancelation on weapon systems that at best, can boast of any justification, with regard to any from of threat that the Americans should be exposed to now (Press Release Washington 2008). This is a challenge therefore to editorial boards, organizations and individuals alike, to explores on the areas of our economic spending that we seems to have been grossly irresponsible, an area that appears to have reached a level of diminished returns; the budgetary allocation to the United States military.
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