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WASHINGTON, Mar 1 2004 (IPS) - More than one-fifth of the proposed 2005 U.S. military budget could be cut and the money spent on projects that would better protect the nation’s security, according to a task force report released Monday.
Overall, the steep increases in U.S. defence budgets under President George W. Bush have largely failed to strengthen U.S. security since the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, adds the study, written by nine national-security experts.
The report charges that some of the most expensive items in the budget have little or nothing to do with the threats the United States confronts in the world today, and calls for a much more integrated approach to determining defence priorities that would include non-military – such as economic assistance and peacekeeping – as well as strictly military programmes.
The report, ‘A Unified Security Budget for the United States’, concludes some 51 billion dollars of the proposed 230-billion-dollar 2005 budget could be saved by reallocating funding within military accounts, while the savings could be used on non-military initiatives that could substantially boost overall security.
“Cutting the Comanche (helicopter) programme was a good start,” said Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst at the Centre for Defence Information (CDI), citing one weapon the administration has already said it will cut.
“But our report identifies 10 other programmes, including the F-22 fighter and DDX destroyer, that could be safely cut or reconfigured to free up resources for other neglected security priorities, such as diplomatic operations, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) non-proliferation and port container inspection,” he said.
>From 2000 to 2004, the Pentagon’s budget ballooned by more than 50 percent, bringing it to a level comparable to that of the world’s next 25 biggest military spenders combined, according to the CACP.
Moreover, its current proposal for 2005 does not include expenditures for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Pentagon is spending nearly 70 billion dollars this year alone.
With Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan warning recently that future social security benefits might have to be cut, many lawmakers, including Republicans, are insisting that no programme should be immune from reductions.
In mid-February, House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert declared all parts of the budget “on the table” for cuts, including the military, a statement that apparently contributed to the Pentagon’s decision to abruptly cancel the army’s long-running Comanche helicopter programme.
In that light, the task force, which also included defence experts at Citizens for Global Solutions, the Centre for American Progress, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), called for a major reassessment of other expensive weapons systems, whose usefulness in the ”war on terrorism” and other likely security challenges is highly questionable.
The nature of today’s threats, says the report, should, among other things, permit the Pentagon to reduce the pace of investment in the next generation of conventional weapons, such as fighters, helicopters, ships, submarines and tanks, where Washington already enjoys a substantial technological edge over any conceivable adversary. Most of these weapons were designed for war against the Soviet Union.
In addition, the report calls for stopping deployment of the national missile defence (NMD) system until the technology is proven. “So far, despite spending 75 billion dollars, we have not found any that works, and we cannot plan our security around doing so,” it says, noting that NMD is the single biggest item in the 2005 defence budget.
The report also calls for reducing the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, closing unnecessary military bases, and overhauling the Pentagon’s financial management operations.
If these steps are taken, as much as 56 billion dollars could be saved in 2005 alone, according to the report.
Some of those savings should be used for other military priorities, like buying improved flak jackets and body armour for U.S. troops in hostile or combat environments, or realigning U.S. forces to better prepare them for likely missions, like counter-terrorism, peacekeeping and stability and reconstruction operations, which are particularly relevant to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The report suggests that such efforts could cost around five billion dollars annually.
But the administration and Congress also need urgently to adopt a more comprehensive approach to security and fighting terrorism, the report adds.
“Despite the administration’s promises of a comprehensive approach to fighting terrorism, its budget concentrates seven times as many resources on the military as on all non-military security tools combined, including homeland security,” according to Miriam Pemberton, FPIF’s peace and security editor.
In particular, the report calls for reallocating some six billion dollars to strengthen key non-military programmes, including diplomacy, international communication and non-proliferation projects, such as the Nunn-Lugar initiative to help fund disarmament in Russia and to find alternative employment for its weapons and nuclear scientists.
In addition, the administration and Congress should consider sharply increasing development assistance for poor nations by as much as 10 billion dollars a year in order to address much of the hopelessness and despair that can breed terrorism over time, particularly in so-called “failed states”.
The report notes that Bush spoke eloquently on the link between development assistance and security at an international conference in Mexico in 2002, but has subsequently failed to push Congress into appropriating the funds.
Finally, the report calls for increases in homeland security funding similar to those recommended by a 2003 Council on Foreign Relations Task Force. More money for emergency first-responders, including local police and fire departments and port security, should both be treated urgently, it suggests.
“Currently we are wasting large sums on the wrong forces for the wrong occasions,” the report concluded. “It is a mistake to believe that increasing the Pentagon budget alone will guarantee our safety.”
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