Academic journal article Independent Review

The Cold War Is over, but U.S. Preparation for It Continues. (Etceteras ...)

Academic journal article Independent Review

The Cold War Is over, but U.S. Preparation for It Continues. (Etceteras ...)

Article excerpt

As George W. Bush's administration took office in January 2001, you could almost hear the sighs of relief coming from the Pentagon and the corporate headquarters of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, Litton Industries, and other big defense contractors. After all, the Bush campaign had championed a $45 billion increase in annual military spending over the next decade. Appearing at a Senate confirmation hearing on his nomination as secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld advocated an even greater increase, remarking that "it is not a time to preside and tweak and calibrate," though the administration's tactics dictated that the big increase not be requested immediately (Rumsfeld qtd. by Jaffe and Schlesinger 2001; see also Jaffe and McKinnon 2001). Just eleven days later, the press disclosed that "the dash for missile-defense profits is on" (Jaffe and Squeo 2001, A24). Nor were the missile defense system contractors the only ones who stood to benefit from the new administration's defense program. Bush's budget, introduced at the end of February, called for an increase of $14.2 billion, or 4.8 percent, in defense spending, but the budget's proposed "contingency reserve" held additional funds that could be tapped by the military ("Bush's Budget Balance" 2001, A14), and the Pentagon has been no stranger to supplemental appropriations. As the preliminary maneuvering proceeded, with an eye toward fiscal year (FY) 2003 and beyond, Rumsfeld's staff produced a plan to increase the weapons procurement budget by 42 percent over seven years, "with big increases for fighter jets, ballistic-missile defense, cargo planes and bombers" (Jaffe 2001, A28). Throughout the military-industrial-congressional complex (hereafter, the MICC), the pork-hawks preened their feathers and prepared to take flight. (1)

The Latest Cycle

The MICC, it seemed, was setting out on another of the recurrent upsurges that have marked the history of defense spending since the onset of the Cold War. The first such upsurge--the most significant one, in view of its long-term consequences--occurred concurrently with the Korean War, though much of it pertained to the buildup of forces intended for deployment in Europe and elsewhere, not in Korea. The second buildup financed the U.S. misadventure in Vietnam. The most recent upswing was the Reagan buildup of the 1980s, which receded in the first half of the 1990s. Examining what might be viewed as the Cold War norm or baseline of defense spending during the fiscal years 1955-65 and 1974-80, when neither substantial mobilization nor demobilization was occurring, we find that real defense spending during those years averaged $281 billion (dollars of 1999 purchasing power) per year. (2) On a graph, the three upsurges and their subsequent abatements appear as discrete hills sitting on that Cold War plateau (Higgs 1994, 288).

If the Cold War had continued to the present, we might have expected that defense spending during the past several years would have returned to the level of the Cold War norm, and indeed it has done so. During the six fiscal years from 1995 through 2000, the average level of annual defense spending was $278 billion (dollars of 1999 purchasing power)--almost exactly equal to the Cold War norm. (3)

Such an equality, however fitting it might seem in the sense of conformity to a statistically descriptive pattern, raises a serious policy question: Given that the Cold War ended a decade ago, why is the defense establishment plowing ahead as if nothing had changed and even beginning to enlarge its bite on the taxpayer's purse? After all, it was to fight the Cold War that the historically extraordinary magnitude of defense spending was ordained in the first place, back in the early 1950s. That immense rate of spending was continuously maintained--even when the United States was not engaged in a hot war or in any other military upsurge--in order, one presumes, to meet continuing threats posed by the USSR, its satellites, and its proxies, and especially to deter an attack on the NATO domain by the mighty Soviet forces in Europe. …

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