Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why the Huge Defense Budget? No Answer Here

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Why the Huge Defense Budget? No Answer Here

Article excerpt

WITH Americans' tax deadline approaching, and with Washington cutting domestic spending, why is Jane Taxpayer still being asked to fork out more than $263 billion each year on defense-related programs? Is the Republic under threat? Would John Taxpayer's life be worse if the 53 percent of Washington's discretionary spending that goes into the military were drastically reduced or shifted to other purposes?

True, the defense budget has been reduced some, in real terms, since the height of the cold war in 1985. But since the cold war, policymakers have continued to support a level of military spending unprecedented in peacetime. Why? Is it because large parts of America's industrial base and work force have become addicted to military production? Or are there real, compelling reasons that can persuade the Taxpayers that military spending at this level is in their interest?

Onto my desk drops a copy of Strategic Assessment 1996, lavishly produced by the Defense Department's National Defense University. This compendium provides figures, tables, charts, and extracts from policy statements in an easy-to-use format. But by organizing the material according to the different "instruments" through which US power is projected abroad, its editors give short shrift to the central question of what these instruments are actually for. "Peace prevails," they write, "and that is a powerful force for stability in the world ...." Nothing here to argue with - or to explain why Jane Taxpayer needs to support a large defense establishment. And later on, "the most likely conflicts in the new international system will be those with poorly defined enemies who may switch back and forth from being dubiously neutral to actively opposed." This may be true. But it isn't a convincing argument for that $263 billion. The study's editors seem to plead that someone else engage in the tough geostrategic thinking needed to chart a course for the defense establishment. If historical analogies hold, they write, "then there is some urgency to resolving the domestic debates about what the US wants from the new international system, because the international system may be more malleable in the mid-1990s now {sic} than it will be in a few years. …

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