Wednesday, February 24, 2010

US continues to dominate world military spending

I stumbled across a revealing pie chart today of global distribution of military expenditure in 2008. The source was the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook of 2009 and showed that the US spending alone was over two fifths of the entire total. China, France, the UK and Russia (the other members of the UN Security Council) account for another fifth, as do the next 10 countries with the rest of the world accounting for the last fifth. Among other things it confirms the old Eisenhower line that the US remains under the influence of the military-technological complex. And its dominance of world affairs is not about to end any time soon - unless it is undone Soviet-style by budget woes.

US military spend continues to rise. Earlier this month President Obama sought congressional approval for $708b in defense spending. The request included a 3.4 percent boost in the Pentagon's base budget and $159b for missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. The president’s spending freeze on other parts of the budget, designed to rein in the massive deficit, clearly did not apply to the military. The defense department said the funds are needed for a variety of costs including everything from health care to nuclear missiles. Obama said the budget proposal included cuts of "unnecessary defence programs that do nothing to keep us safe” but Defence Secretary Robert Gates claimed the overall increase was due to “broader range of security challenges on the horizon.”

As Chinese news agency Xinhua reasonably asks Why Does US Defence Spending Keep Growing? At a time of economic uncertainty and a national deficit of $1.6 trillion, and a scaled down presence in Iraq and Afghanistan the Pentagon remains immune from cutbacks. Xinhua notes Obama sought congressional approval for $708b in defense spending so it could keep up its role of “global policeman”.

The Department of Defense doesn’t use such emotive language. It said the funding increase allows them “to address its highest priorities, such as the president's commitment to reform defense acquisition, develop a ballistic missile defense system that addresses modern threats, and continue to provide high quality healthcare to wounded service members.” There is a focus on increasing funding of unmanned aircraft while the Pentagon strategy also moves away from the old focus on developing the capability of fighting two major wars simultaneously.

The other big reason for the increase is across the board pay rises. In the 2010 budget, Congress authorised an increase of 3.4 percent, which was 0.5 percent more than requested. This year defence officials will ask Congress to keep the pay raise capped at 1.4 percent. The Army’s base budget request of $143.4 billion is designed to support a force of 547,400 active-duty soldiers, 358,200 National Guardsmen and 205,000 Army Reservists. There is also an ongoing 22,000-soldier expansion of the active component that could bring the service’s personnel strength to nearly 570,000 by the end of 2011.

However nearly all of the increased spending of the last decade can be directly attributed to the impact of 9/11. The average Defense Department budgets has gone up by more than two thirds since the era between 1954 and 2001 according to Carl Conetta at the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute in a report titled "An Undisciplined Defense: Understanding the 2-trillion-dollar Surge in U.S. Defense Spending." It is difficult not to draw the conclusion that fighting the supposed bogey of terrorism has been good business for the Pentagon.

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