Robert Gates, serving as the Secretary of Defense for President Obama, just as he did for President Bush, has unveiled the proposed U.S. defense expenditures for fiscal year 2009. Though in real terms the increase being proposed is modest compared to the annual expansions of the Bush years, the overall number is daunting. Gates is proposing that the United States spend $654 billion on its military in FY 09. This stratospheric expenditure is equivalent to the combined totals for the next 25 largest military budgets on the planet. Even more disconcerting, the planned military budget for the upcoming year represents a 72% increase from 2000, the year George W. Bush was elected president. And bear in mind that the official U.S. defense budget excludes many military programs and items, which are allocated in other line items on the Federal budget. To take just one example, most of the vast sums the United States spends on nuclear warhead production and maintenance come under the budget for the Department of Energy.
As is well recognized, this massive explosion in Pentagon spending was not due to any military conflict or arms race involving a major power. The primary justification is the threat posed by Al-Qaeda. There are also rationalizations regarding the need for missile defense to protect America from a possible Iranian threat, and especially peculiar, a long-term threat from China, a nation that has become the primary source of credit for the U.S. government. It is indeed awkward to justify China's ambitions as a basis for the explosive growth of the U.S. defense budget, given that the Chinese treasury has become the banker of last resort for the Pentagon.
In reality, the only sustained threat to national security that would warrant an increase in the defense budget is that emanating from Al-Qaeda in the wake of 9/11. However, Al-Qaeda, notwithstanding its deadly intentions, is a non-state actor with a few thousand adherents scattered in different countries. Rather than a proportionate response to the quality and quantity of the actual threat posed by Al-Qaeda, what we have witnessed has been an explosive growth in military spending. Since this money did not grow the actual size of the U.S. armed forces in the period from 2000-2008, and the strength of some components actually shrank, as with the number of air force combat aircraft, it appears to have been infused into the military industrial complex in the perpetuation of costly research and development programs that have limited value towards enhancing national security.
At a time when the United States in sinking deeper in debt amid a devastating economic crisis, does a bloated military budget that requires Chinese loans to finance represent a true enhancement of U.S. national security? There should be much more serious and critical discussion involving the scope, size and vast increase in the outlays for military spending. Ultimately, it is America's economic viability that is the bedrock of her national security. Appropriating funding for the Pentagon that exceeds the nation's capacity or willingness to pay is not, in the long-term, a sound direction for safeguarding America's security. To maintain the status quo is to proclaim that the United States can borrow money indefinitely from China, using those funds to pay for gold-plated military programs to protect us from that same creditor. It is also a path leading to national bankruptcy.