Pressured by the need to shrink the federal budget deficit, Congress is insisting that Pentagon spending can’t continue to grow at the galloping rate of the last decade. In response, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress in October that he’s planning to cut $450 billion in planned military spending increases.
We shouldn’t stop at $450 billion. Congress can and should cut military spending by at least $1 trillion — and probably more — over the next 10 years. That would make a significant dent in the federal budget deficit and free up money to create jobs, kick-start our economy, and preserve funding for programs with a proven track record of helping the poor.
But cutting Pentagon spending isn’t just about the deficit. Panetta says that our military would be able to do less if its budget growth is limited. I say that’s a good thing, especially if our country invests some of the savings in a new kind of foreign engagement.
Cutting the Pentagon’s budget could be a first step toward preparing the nation for the world in which we already live. Cuts of a trillion or more might begin to force a shift in the U.S. strategy for engaging with the rest of the world. That would be an improvement.
In the 1950s, our government essentially followed the credo that what’s good for General Motors was good for the country. Today, I’ve heard Washington policymakers and pundits argue that what’s good for the rest of the world is good for the United States. I agree.
Here’s why. China’s rise as a global political and economic power, the dramatic increase in the number of workers engaged in the global economy, and the environmental and demographic issues that are remaking countries and beginning to remake whole continents have changed the equation. The Pentagon has even begun to define environmental issues as “threats” to U.S. security.
Yet Panetta, Pentagon contractors, and many members of Congress still argue that the United States must expand its fleet of aircraft carriers, continue to upgrade our country’s nuclear arsenal, and maintain military spending at six times the level of China and 13 times the level of Russia.
As a country, we need a national discussion on the best strategy for assuring the future of our country and the world.
While Germany, China, India, and other countries are investing in manufacturing things like solar panels and electric cars, do we want our country to continue investing in fighter jets and other expensive military hardware that’s less and less useful in the contemporary world?
Let’s have a discussion about the benefits of pouring more and more money into wars.
Today, the United States is waging declared and undeclared wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Uganda, and possibly even other countries. Few people believe these wars are going to make the world or the United States any safer. Better diplomacy and a stronger emphasis on development and international cooperation are more likely to bring lasting solutions to these conflicts zones than more guns and more shooting.
The debate about cutting military spending shouldn’t be just about narrowing the budget deficit. We need a new discussion about the U.S. role in the world.