Out-of-Control Pentagon Spending Is Making America Weaker, Not Stronger
In the face of military tensions with Iran – and the prospect of another war – many Americans are asking: Why is there always money for war, but not enough to feed the hungry, house the homeless, expand health care, prevent climate catastrophe or address other priorities?
It’s a darned good question.
Pentagon spending is, literally, out of control – and it is making America weaker, not stronger.
U.S. military spending will total $738 billion in fiscal year 2020 (with additional sums allocated to intelligence functions and paying for veterans’ costs). This extraordinary sum – more than 53% of the nation’s discretionary budget – doesn’t reflect any reasonable assessment of national security threats, commonsense priority setting, acknowledgment of the extraordinary waste in the Pentagon budget or any kind of honest reckoning with the costs and benefits of an additional billion dollars for war-fighting. The result is that we are wasting hundreds of billions of dollars, fueling endless war and diverting money from other vital needs.
- The Pentagon can’t even account for how it spends its money. It is unable to pass an audit. An internal Pentagon study found almost a quarter of its budget spent on overhead and bureaucracy, and identified $125 billion (over five years) in easily obtainable savings. Worried about attention on its financial mismanagement, the Pentagon buried the study.
- U.S. military spending vastly outdistances all allies and rivals. In fact, U.S. Pentagon spending is more than the next seven top military spending countries combined.
- Excessive Pentagon spending fuels endless war that leaves us and the world less safe. Military and political figures of all political persuasions agree with this basic assessment; and the Afghanistan Papers recently published by the Washington Post show that – despite public proclamations to the contrary – top political and military officials have recognized all along that the Afghan War was an unwinnable disaster.
- We have spent and continue to spend unfathomable sums on endless war. Researchers at Brown University put the total at $6.4 trillion, including the cost of caring for injured veterans. America’s post-9/11 wars have killed more than 800,000 people directly and many more indirectly – all while failing in their mission and leaving us less safe.
- The great international challenges create instability but are not amenable to military solutions. Poverty and wealth inequality, newly emergent diseases, wealth inequality and, above all, the climate crisis demand diplomacy and major investments – but not in the military and war-fighting capacity. On the other hand, failure to address these challenges will certainly fuel more military conflict.
Mobilized voters are pushing back on this exorbitant and unnecessary upward trajectory by calling for a strategic alternative: reallocating at least $200 billion of budget excesses away from the Pentagon and toward human needs priorities. Such substantial sums could help address education, health care, climate/environmental or other imperatives.
There is no shortage of unmet needs. To take two examples: Advocates estimate that $26 billion a year would end hunger in America. And the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated several years ago that eliminating homelessness would cost $20 billion a year.
The People Over Pentagon campaign has identified a series of cuts that would total $200 billion annually; others have compiled similar lists:
- We can save $70 billion or more a year by eliminating a Pentagon slush fund, known as the “Overseas Contingency Operations account,” which is being used for programs that have no connections to emergencies or contingencies.
- We can save more than $40 billion a year by ending reliance on expensive private contractors to do work that more affordable government employees should do and by eliminating wasteful contracting strategies that skyrocket costs in the final month of a fiscal year.
- There is a long list of superexpensive weapons, like the F-35, that should be eliminated, cut back or replaced with more cost-effective alternatives. (New reports show the F-35 breaks down too often; Robert Behler, the Pentagon’s director of operational testing, says the fighters evidence “low readiness” for combat missions “that require operationally capable aircraft.”)
- Cutting the number of troops in Afghanistan – or pulling them out altogether – would save tens of billions annually.
The American public supports this agenda. Recent polling shows that a majority of American voters overall and two-thirds of Democratic primary voters support reallocating at least $200 billion of the Pentagon budget into domestic and human needs priorities.
A majority of presidential candidates have called for cuts in Pentagon spending, and most of the others say spending levels should at least be reassessed, but they have generally been highly unspecific about the levels they would cut.