With high unemployment, massive poverty, inequality, and a weak economic recovery, the economy is obviously the number-one issue in public consciousness. President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney continue to trade barbs on the presidential campaign trail. Romney accuses Obama of being “anti-business”, while Obama criticizes Romney’s record with Bain Capital, Romney’s private equity firm that was involved in outsourcing American jobs overseas. Amidst this cacophony of superficial babble and quacking from two politicians backed by multinational corporations and Wall Street, one fact is conveniently left out of the discussion — the $1 trillion national security budget.
The United States currently spends over $1 trillion on national security activities. Defense spending is the most obvious form of national security spending. The Defense Department’s base budget, the figure most reported on, is currently at $530 billion for fiscal year 2012. For fiscal year 2013, the base budget is expected to decrease 2.5% to a mere $525 billion. This largely due to the end of combat operations in Iraq and troop reductions in Afghanistan.
Within the 2012 base budget, $141.8 billion is spent on military personnel; $197.2 billion on operations and maintenance of military units and America’s global empire of over 1,000 bases; $104.5 billion on procurement (essentially public money spent to purchase weapons made by private defense companies); $71.4 billion on research, development, testing and evaluation; $11.4 billion on military construction; $1.7 billion on family housing; and $2.6 billion on revolving and management funds. For fiscal year 2013, funding will decrease for all of those components, except operation and maintenance, which will climb to $208.8 billion, and family housing spending will remain the same. And that’s just the base budget.
Outside of the base budget, the U.S. spends billions of dollars on other national security activities, which, supposedly, “keep us safe”. Recently, Chris Hellman and Mattea Kramer, research analysts at the National Priorities Project, broke down the $1 trillion national security budget in TomDispatch. In addition to the base budget, war funding for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other overseas operations will be $88 billion in 2013, which is down from over $100 billion spent each year in the past decade. The U.S. will also be spending $11.5 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs at the Department of Energy and $6.4 billion for weapons cleanup. There’s $35.5 billion for the Department of Homeland Security and another $13.5 billion for homeland security funding for other federal agencies. The international affairs budget includes an extra $8 billion of war funding for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, $2 billion for peacekeeping operations, and $14 billion in weapons and training the U.S. provides to foreign militaries around the world. Veterans programs, which provide care to veterans, cost $138 billion, while pensions and retirement benefits for military and civilian Defense Department retirees cost an extra $55 billion. Then there’s $8 billion for “defense-related activities” and $185 billion for interest on past Pentagon spending.
Most calculations on defense and national security spending do not include the “black budget”. The black budget funds the U.S.’s secret military projects (including the world of special operations forces), intelligence, covert operations, and clandestine activities around the world. Covert operations are done in secrecy by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and can include sabotage, assassinations, supporting coups d’état, and overthrowing governments. The most recent, and perhaps most controversial, covert operation is the CIA’s targeted killings by drones.
There are other secret military projects included in the black budget but, since most of the information is classified, it is hard to tell what these projects are. The military’s black budget is estimated to be $51 billion. This does not include the CIA’s funding, which, although largely classified, is estimated to be around $50 billion. Add $19.2 billion for the Military Intelligence Program and that brings the total black budget to over $120 billion. This brings the total to about $1.2 trillion for defense and national security spending.
If the sequestration from the 2011 debt deal were to take effect, it would hardly hurt the massive national security budget. The sequestration would cut $1.2 trillion from both defense and non-defense discretionary spending over a decade. This would mean defense spending would be cut $600 billion over ten years or around $60 billion a year. Considering that national security spending is over $1 trillion, this cut is miniscule. Plus, Congress can find a way to skirt around this. Last May, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives approved a bill that would cancel the automatic cuts to defense for 2013 but replace them with $315 billion in new cuts to much-needed social programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. However, there is a chance that this bill not pass the Senate or the White House. Regardless if this bill fails, one thing is certain — the massive national security budget will remain largely unscathed.
The purpose of the $1 trillion national security budget is not to “keep us safe” but to maintain American global hegemony. In order for the U.S. empire to project power around the globe, it needs a massive budget to do so. It needs money for military personnel, bases, nuclear weapons, advanced weaponry and technology, training and arms for friendly but oppressive governments, special operations forces, secret military projects, covert operations, wars, and targeted killings around the world. These are necessary tools and activities for pulverizing adversaries and asserting power in the international system. The results of this enterprise, on the other hand, are millions of corpses, destabilized countries, and massive human misery. However, for the executers and beneficiaries of this imperial project, such a price is worth it.
There is a reason why neither Obama or Romney, nor even the Democratic and Republican party establishments, are discussing the $1 trillion national security budget. On foreign policy, there is a bipartisan consensus within the American foreign policy establishment that the United States should remain the world’s top hegemonic power. Very, very few politicians in either political party question the wisdom of maintaining a global empire. This is because they believe that American global hegemony is a good thing and receive campaign contributions from multinational corporations that benefit from empire.
The only difference between Democrats and Republicans on this issue is how they maintain empire. Republicans will emphasize hard power (e.g., huge invasions), unilateralism, and bellicose rhetoric, while Democrats will emphasize “smart” or “soft” power (e.g., diplomacy, corporate globalization, unconventional warfare), less bellicose rhetoric, and multilateralism to achieve American imperial objectives. But the overall strategic goals remain the same in both parties — maintaining and expanding American empire, which is euphemistically referred to as “promoting democracy” or “humanitarianism”. Therefore, don’t expect a rigorous debate between Obama and Romney on empire and the massive national security budget. On foreign policy, there is remarkable consensus between the two.
Meanwhile, as the U.S. spends over $1 trillion to maintain and expand a global empire, the country suffers internally. Poverty is the highest it’s been since the 1960s at nearly 15.7%. This amounts to about 47 million people, or 1 in 6 Americans, living below $11,000 a year. Even more staggering is that nearly 1 out of 2 Americans are living in or near poverty. Unemployment is commonly reported to be around 8%. However, this is a misleading figure. It does not count those looking for full-time work but are working part-time (i.e., the “underemployed”) and discouraged workers who have given up looking for work. Counting underemployment and discouraged workers, the real unemployment rate is around 15% to 18%. On the other hand, in 2010, the wealthiest 1% took 93% of economic recovery’s income gains. While the recession is officially over, for millions of people, it is not.
Given the severe economic situation in America, it would far more sense to massively cut the $1 trillion national security budget and use that money for programs of socioeconomic uplift. If that money were spent on education, healthcare, transportation, and clean energy, it would create far more jobs than being spent on the military. In addition, it would lift millions out of poverty, boost the economy, and create far less bloodshed around the world. Cutting military spending is, in fact, favored by 76% of the American public. Moreover, the United States is in dire need of better education, healthcare, mass transit, improved infrastructure, and clean energy. It does not need to be, nor should it be, in the business of empire.
Martin Luther King, Jr., in his 1967 speech opposing the Vietnam war, said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” His words could not be any more prescient.