All Guns, No Butter

By Kenney, George | In These Times, August 2008 | Go to article overview

All Guns, No Butter


Kenney, George, In These Times


Now retired, Thomas P. Christie has served the U.S. government as an influential military analyst and manager. After holding senior positions at the Pentagon on and off from 1973/ Christie worked as director of Operational Test and Evaluation from 2001-2005, the Pentagon's chief weapons tester, the highest ranking civil service appointment in the Pentagon. Though largely unknown outside the Pentagon, Christie was a key figure in some of the biggest battles over military spending in recent years.

He regularly disproved contractors' claims about new weapons systems, though some of the most unecessary have continued to be developed nonetheless. A master bureaucrat, tall, white-haired, soft-spoken, Christie rose through the ranks, providing leadership and institutional cover for an informal group of like-minded individuals concerned with Pentagon deficiencies across the board, from tactics and strategy to technology and economics.

More vocal than ever in retirement, Christie's insights remain essential to discussions about how to control breakaway military spending.

The Pentagon spends enormously. The Defense budget for fiscal year '09 is $519 billion-$129 billion for personnel, $180 billion for operations and maintenance, $104 billion for procurement, $80 billion for research and development, $24 billion for military construction and $2 billion for management.

But that doesn't come close to how much money eventually will be spent on the military. That doesn't include the [$165 billion] supplemental [bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan]. So you're easily up to $700 billion in this coming fiscal year. And a large part of the budget is over in the Department of Energy-all the nuclear stuff. The Veteran's Administration is carrying a burden associated with our veterans.

So I don't know how much is being spent. But a lot ofthat money is going into systems that Defense Secretary Bob Gates has criticized quite frankly-systems that were started and justified based on what was going on during the Cold War.

What justifies spending more on military matters than the rest of the world combined?

Take a look at what's in the budget in the context of modernization. The F-22 fighter plane is a classic example. That program goes back to the early to mid'8os. At one time, the Air Force was going to buy 700. We're buying 180 now, and the Air Force wants to buy more.

And Secretary Gates' point is those systems aren't playing any role in the situations we're involved in-in Afghanistan and Iraq-nor will they.

So we are postulating now that the Chinese are the threat of the future, or peer competitors, or whatever we call them. We're grasping at straws in order to justify this amount of money. The stuff we're spending money on-some of the Navy ships, nuclear attack submarines or the F-22-can they really be justified when you look at the future and see a world that is going to be similar to what we have today? You've got two things happening: First, everything we're developing and buying is costing an arm and a leg. And second, you're justifying it based on a questionable projected threat.

I really despair about getting a handle on this because it isn't just the Defense Department, it's also Congress. It's a military-industrial and congressional complex that is going full steam, and any attempt to draw back on that will be met with defeat, unfortunately. And I don't care which administration comes in. Once you've got all this stuff going down the pike, these big systems-they are jobs programs.

Is it intellectually respectable to argue in favor of, say, a 50 percent cut in military spending? Can one defend that position?

I think so. That would be doable. You're talking definitely about smaller forces. Of course, manpower, and the operating and support costs are what's eating our lunch today.

And the other thing that's interestingtragic is more the word for it-is we don't know where the hell all this money is!

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