Why Is It Bad News When Military Spending Declines?

Ike knew the real cost of military spending

W.J. Astore

Scanning my email updates, I saw two articles dealing with allegedly declining militaries.  The Weekly Standard complained that the British military is “damn, busted.”  The article cites Britain’s lack of main battle tanks (only 227) compared to Russia’s 20,000, concluding that Britannia’s leaders have a “narrow-minded, cost-driven vision [that] has left Britain unprepared for great-power conflict.”  And here I thought the Cold War ended in c.1991 and that an island nation historically and sensibly is far more concerned with its navy and air forces than its army.

As Britain’s military withers, so too, apparently, does Germany’s.  Hence the following brief from FP: Foreign Policy:

Germany’s defense minister pushes for expanded military budget. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has requested an additional $14.6 billion for the country’s military budget, saying the current budget of $45 billion is vastly inadequate for the military modernization Germany needs. Germany is currently still below the 2% GDP military budget that NATO asks of members.

The sober, sane, thing to do, according to military experts, is always to expand military spending.  The unwise, perhaps insane, thing to do is to attempt to set sensible goals that focus on national defense, and to spend no more than what’s necessary for a sound deterrent.

Put slightly differently, when we (the United States) announce plans to spend $1.2 trillion on modernizing an already world-smashing and life-ending nuclear force, it’s considered sensible by the president (whether Obama or Trump), Congress, and of course the military-industrial complex.  But when other countries develop a relatively puny force (North Korea) or have the potential to develop a puny force (Iran), these countries are denounced as monstrous dangers to world peace.

And of course U.S. rearmament is always for peace!

Every now and then, it’s worth reading Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message on what we forfeit when we spend money on weapons:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Just so, Ike.  Higher military spending is not something to celebrate.  Lower military spending is.

14 thoughts on “Why Is It Bad News When Military Spending Declines?

  1. I note that just recently the Russian Federation cut military spending by 20% while nearly completing (ahead of schedule) two huge infrastructure investments in Crimea: a multi-billion bridge to the Russian mainland and an international airport. Not especially “bad news, except possibly for some transnational oligarchs who feed off endless financial fraud and feckless fighting. Here we have a good example of what a country can do with money that it chooses not to spend on more military than that country actually needs for its legitimate defense.

    It has even come to pass that NASA now has a new administrator: a bible-thumping politician from Oklahoma with no scientific background, sworn in by another bible-thumping politician, Vice President Mike Pence. So now, I suppose, the intials N.A.S.A. stand for “Neolithic Assortment of Superstitious Astrologers.”

    Just in the nick of time, though, before the new “leadership” fucks up America’s space program beyond all recognition — by turning it into a bad rendition of “Starship Troopers” — it turns out that NASA has actually completed a few-million-dollar testing program for a small nuclear reactor called “Kilopower” that could conceivably provide an enhanced energy source for future spacecraft and planetary outposts: one independent of solar energy that night-time, or distace from the Sun, or dust storms can render useless.

    The United States can still do good scientific and engineering work, even if it takes forty years because the Pentagram has eaten just about every available dollar that could have gone into actually building something worthwhile. A 50% cut in military expenditures would make an excellent start towards demobilizing from World War II. Given even a 10% increase in its budget and a director who understands how the physical universe operates (hint: not by praying to Deputy Dubya’s “higher father in the sky”), NASA might even get back to figuring out how the Saturn V rocket (developed start to finish in 5 years) worked to send 24 American astronauts around the Moon and back to Earth again — by 1972.

    We used to do so much better. And for so much less. We still do some things now and again, although we should have gotten so much further by now. I used to take it for granted that I would live to see the first human beings land on Mars. Now I don’t think I’ll even live to see them set foot once again on the Moon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Mike. In the series “Space: 1999,” shown in the 1970s, it was assumed we’d have an extensive base on the moon in ’99. In the movie “2001,” it was assumed we’d be exploring outer planets like Jupiter by the 21st century. Sure, these are Sci-fi, but they didn’t seem that far-fetched in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But once the U.S. “won” the space race, our explorations lacked purpose. And with the DoD consuming all the money, NASA was essentially starved of the oxygen it needed to explore Mars and beyond with astronauts. The Space Shuttle was also a huge blunder, both overly complex and over-sold. Losing two space shuttles was a major blow from which we still haven’t recovered. So now we build nuclear missiles, jet fighters and bombers, and big navy ships rather than space ships. At least the defense contractors are happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The over-investment in military spending looks even worse when you get into raw numbers. The USA spends more than $2,000 per person, about double what almost every other country spends per-capita. At the same time, half of Americans report that a $400 unexpected expense would force them to go into debt or bankruptcy. The Pentagon eats up more than 50% of federal income taxes, at the same time the national debt-to-GDP ratio is climbing steadily towards 100%, taking the country way too close to the levels of EU problem children like Spain and Italy for comfort.

    The Soviet Union similarly over-invested in military spending – most of Russia’s oh-so-scary 20,000 tanks are obsolete Cold War remnants – and that produced massive structural weaknesses in the Soviet economy. The USA looks much, much more like the Soviet Union than anyone cares to admit. Almost no one saw the USSR’s collapse coming. I suspect the USA is headed down the same path.

    At what point do Americans as a people begin to actively question whether the Union is worth it any more? When the next recession comes this year or next (we’re overdue for one)? When the (inevitably disastrous) war with Iran is launched?

    And what comes after?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great essay & comments today! Though I think Andrew Tanner’s comment is my favorite; As a retired businessman, I like financial figures. 2,000$ tax for “defense” per citizen who could be wiped out with a $400 emergency is an absurdity Eisenhower probably couldn’t even imagine! What’s changed today is Astore’s quotes in his speech about what military spending could buy for a better society. It’s completely bizarre what’s happening today!
    And, getting to Michael Murry, his 1st paragraph is so important. Russia is not a little ‘Boy Toy’ the West expected it to be after the fall of USSR communism. Obviously they learned a lot. Always great technicians, a failure in economics, they let the Western & Russian Oligarchs destroy their country.
    THAT’S why the West hates Putin! It’s over! “We gave Ukraine independence! We allowed Victoria Nuland* to overthrow a corrupt government. (*btw, appointed by Billary Clinton!) But how dare the West think they’d get our ancient port of Crimea!”
    So yes, to stick it to the West, Russia builds a state-of-the art bridge, ahead of schedule!
    Lastly, war with Iran. Why, I don’t know. The Shah’s wife is LOADED, living in palaces they stole with Iranian money years ago. Not good parents: 2 out of 3 committed suicide. The one still breathing – I kid you not! – under Bush/Cheney was going to be installed after our “Victory” in Afghanistan/Iraq…as new “Shah” of Iran.
    A little history on how crazy the elites are….

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The Pentagon politicians and generals have wasted the money they’ve been given, by a corrupted Congress, on useless budget lines including huge expenditures on useless jet fighters, littoral combat shops, destroyers, carriers, tanks etc. that are not capable of much of anything to defend the American people, and add to that the “sweetheart” consulting contracts to favored friends, and. . .what do we expect from the most corrupt country on earth?
    So there’s no correlation between military spending and national defense….let’s put that puppy to bed. Increase it, decrease it, you get the same poor result. List all the variables that affect national defense, and corruption beats spending every time. More spending, more corruption.
    Bottom line: The U.S. is not militarily threatened by any other country, except by nuclear weapon attack and there MAD applies (it works). Mexico and Canada are quite benign in that threat regard.


    1. Yes. Corruption for its own sake. Fighting to have fights. As Michael Parenti wrapped it all up in Against Empire, Chapter 5 – “A Dreadful Success”:

      In sum, defense contractors enjoy a rate of return substantially higher than what is actually available in the civilian market. No wonder corporate leaders are in no hurry to cut military spending. What they have is a limitless, low-risk, high-profit, multibillion-dollar cornucopia. Arms spending bolsters the entire capitalist system, even as it impoverishes the not-for-profit public sector. These, then, are the two basic reasons why the United States assiduously remains an armed superpower even though lacking a pretext of an opposing superpower: First, a massive military establishment is needed to keep the world safe for global capital accumulation. Second, a massive military itself is a direct source of immense capital accumulation.

      And from Chapter 3 – “Intervention: Whose Gain? Whose Pain”:

      Imperialism remains today in the service of the few monopolists, not the many taxpayers. … There is nothing irrational about spending three dollars of public money to protect one dollar of private investment — at least not from the perspective of the investors. To protect one dollar their money they will spend three, four, and five dollars of our money. In fact, when it comes to protecting their money, our money is no object.

      In light of the above, then, I would rephrase the title of this article to read: “Why do the Seizure Class Oligarchs claim that it’s bad news when the privatized military spending of public dollars declines?” To ask the question in that manner answers it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hey, let’s look on the bright side with the Vietnam government the US once fought against now a US foreign fave with no small thanks to lobbyists.
        McDermott Will & Emery was paid $40,000 per month between September 2017 and February 2018 for its lobbying services. Dowell Pham Harrison, another Washington-based law firm, was paid US$10,000 per month between September 2017 and January 2018.
        Jeff Miller, an associate at McDermott Will & Emery who has lobbied on behalf of the Vietnamese military, is widely tipped to be named as Trump’s next Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, a government agency that provides healthcare services to Vietnam War and other military veterans.
        Presidents Clinton, Bush-43, Obama and Trump have all visited Vietnam (after the war that killed 54,000 US troops of course).


      2. Yes, Don. Those presidential visits to Vietnam do reek of stomach-churning irony, what with several of our commanders-in-brief trying to sell guns to our former victorious victims. On my birthday twelve years ago I thought I’d take a shot at putting my feelings about that sort of thing into therapeutic verse:

        Written on the occasion of President George W. Bush finally making the trip to Vietnam on November 17, 2006, decades after a better American woman, Jane Fonda, made the trip in his place. Three-and-a-half years into his own Vietnam-style debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan — disasters that he would bequeath to his successor two years later — Dubya the Dimwit proved to the world that what he didn’t learn about America in Vietnam he wouldn’t learn about America in the Middle East, either.

        Hanoi Haiku

        In Hanoi at last
        Red-carpet in return for
        Our carpet-bombing

        The words no one heard,
        Due so many years after:
        “We apologize”

        Deputy Dubya
        Sheriff Cheney’s Barney Fife
        Lost in Mayberry

        Gullible Goofy
        The boy who cried Wolfowitz
        Far too many times

        Emerald City
        Naked ruler’s brand new clothes
        Viewed through glasses green

        Mission Accomplished!
        A cakewalk in its last throes
        Now a glacier race

        Four Years an “instant”
        Nothing happens right away
        What did you expect?

        Broken-egg omelets
        George Orwell’s Catastrophic

        Shop till the troops drop
        Buy a plane ticket or two
        Your part in the “war”

        Rob the future now
        They will never break our will
        Those grandkids of ours

        Lecture the victors
        About their First and Second
        Indochina Wars

        Where did we get him?
        How come we can’t do better?
        We look so stupid

        Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006

        Add a few more presidential gun-salesmen and the stupidity just keeps rolling right along.


  5. You wonder where The Weekly Standard came up with the 20,000 Russian Tanks number. Did the Russians let some one walk around and count them, or is it a Russian source that hypes up the numbers?? If there is a serious war, tanks will not be much of factor.

    This I thought merited a post:
    From the Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/may/05/trump-team-hired-spy-firm-dirty-ops-iran-nuclear-deal

    Revealed: Trump team hired spy firm for ‘dirty ops’ on Iran arms deal
    Israeli agency told to find incriminating material on Obama diplomats who negotiated deal with Tehran.

    Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, the Observer can reveal.

    People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal.

    The extraordinary revelations come days before Trump’s 12 May deadline to either scrap or continue to abide by the international deal limiting Iran’s nuclear programme.

    Jack Straw, who as foreign secretary was involved in earlier efforts to restrict Iranian weapons, said: “These are extraordinary and appalling allegations but which also illustrate a high level of desperation by Trump and [the Israeli prime minister] Benjamin Netanyahu, not so much to discredit the deal but to undermine those around it.”

    Sources said that officials linked to Trump’s team contacted investigators days after Trump visited Tel Aviv a year ago

    Dirty Tricks, Black Ops, normally, the McMega-Media – CNN and MSDNC would be all over this. After all unconfirmed facts, allegations and innuendo concerning The Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) never stops CNN or MSDNC from reaching a desired result.

    The McMega-Media must be waiting for the script. How do you report dirty tricks and black ops by the Trumpet to torpedo Obama’s Iran Deal and leave Israel and Netanyahu out of the equation. I suppose one way is not to report it at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As an oldster non-vet I do really appreciate the ‘experienced via participation’ views of this entire group. Do Not Give In!

    Thank you very much.
    Larry Phifer (drafted but not accepted for Vietnam)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s why I LOVE this site! I too got out of Vietnam War ie Larry above. I NEVER marched in anti war marches! LUCKY to be OUT of Vietnam, my sympathy was for boys & girls in the catastrophe! Drafted,


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