By Cohen, Ben; Greenfield, Jerry et al. | Insight on the News, March 15, 1999 | Go to article overview


Cohen, Ben, Greenfield, Jerry, Morris, Dave, Wilson, Mike, Insight on the News

Q: Is the Pentagon spending too much on new military hardware?

Yes: Congress should work to put an end to' America's arms race with itself.

The Cold War is over, but we still live in a dangerous world and our military must be prepared to defend America's national security. That's why we should take seriously the recent statements by Pentagon leaders that America must do more for its troops to boost recruitment, improve basic living conditions and provide the tools our soldiers need.

But the way to help our troops and strengthen our military is not to throw an additional $12 billion at the Pentagon this year, as proposed by the Clinton administration. Instead, taxpayers must determine why, in the post-Cold War period, America can't defend itself with a military budget in excess of $275 billion -- 18 times as much as the combined spending of all the potential adversaries identified by the Pentagon, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Cuba. (Iraq's defense budget is about $1 billion.) If you add the entire military budgets of Russia and China, the United States still spends twice as much.

As you might expect, a businesslike examination of the Pentagon budget reveals that the current budget "isn't enough" because the giant bureaucracy is wasting tens of billions of taxpayer dollars. How could any taxpayer in his right mind support handing over more money to the Defense Department in light of these facts:

* The General Accounting Office, or GAO, discovered that, during the last decade, the Pentagon simply has lost $43 billion! In other words, officials' cannot account for this money! In a followup report released in January, the GAO reported that the Pentagon's books are so muddled that they can't even be audited.

* The Pentagon budget is the pork barrel of last resort. This year alone it's larded with $5 billion in budget items not requested by the military to defend America but, instead, inserted into the budget by politicians seeking jobs for their districts and to appease defense contractors and their lobbyists.

* The Pentagon has overstocked $41 billion worth of supplies, including a 159-year stock of camouflage screen systems scheduled for replacement in 2003. Reliving the glory days of the $640 toilet seat, the Pentagon recently paid $75 for metal screws which sell for about 57 cents.

* Even though the population and gross domestic product of the European Union is greater than America's, the United States has 100,000 troops permanently deployed in Europe ready to defend France, Germany and other allies from attack. The cost of defending these economic competitors is at least $7 billion per year.

But the most outrageous drain of the Pentagon's budget comes from buying unnecessary Cold-War weapons. These procurements not only waste scarce taxpayer dollars but weaken our military, in part because the exorbitant price and increased down time of these high-tech weapons requires us to reduce the total number of fighter planes available to fly missions. And it is this diversion of funds to defense contractors that shortchanges our soldiers in the field, creating a "readiness crisis" -- despite the fact that America's readiness spending per capita is higher in real terms than it was a decade ago. As George C. Wilson wrote in Army Times in February, "It's dawning on midgrade military officers, if not the generals and admirals, that they and their troops are getting rolled by defense contractors."

To determine what new military hardware actually is needed, the essential question to ask is: What are the post-Cold War missions of America's military?

As Lawrence Korb, an assistant secretary of defense during the Reagan administration, has argued, such an evaluation reveals that America's armed forces must be able to conduct four types of military operations: 1) waging a major war half-way across the globe; 2) launching peacekeeping operations; 3) alleviating human suffering in Bangladesh, Central America or elsewhere; and 4) making a show of force in a crisis in, for example, the Taiwan Strait. …

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