Published on Saturday, February 24, 2001

Washington High Fashion: High Military Spending by Frida Berrigan

President Bush announced last week that his 2002 budget would include only a "modest" increase in military spending, in keeping with Clinton's projected spending of $310 billion. More substantial increases will be postponed until Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reviews the needs of the armed services. The delay is designed to send a "signal of fiscal discipline," says Bush spokesman Ari Fleisher.

Clearly, this was not the signal right-wing Republicans wanted sent and they are shifting into overdrive to push for immediate and massive increases in military spending. The Project for the New American Century rejects the idea that a Rumsfeld's review is necessary to determine that "planes are flying for lack of parts, soldiers aren't training for lack of funds." The group calls on Bush to "increase defense spending, increase it substantially, and increase it now."

While Project for the New American Century describes itself as a "non-profit educational organization," the Board of Directors includes powerful Republicans, National Missile Defense true believers, and at least one defense corporation boss. William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard who served as Vice President Dan Quayle's chief of staff, chairs the group. Bruce Jackson, Vice President of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest military corporation, is one of the group's directors. His firm obviously stands to gain from astronomical increases in military spending, as a significant portion would go to his company. Jackson is well connected in Republican circles; he was the finance chair of the Dole for President campaign in 1996 and a major Bush supporter in 2000. He was heard to brag at a conference last year that he would be in a position to "write the Republican platform" on foreign policy if they took the White House. National Missile Defense enthusiast and Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, who described Bush's decision as his "first broken campaign promise," is also on the board.

If you only listened to the alarmist rhetoric of Kristol, Jackson and Kagan, you might think Bush was proposing to cut the military budget drastically. Not so. According to a Council for a Livable World analysis, Bush's "go slow" budget represents a major increase over current funding levels. Including Department of Energy military activities, the total military budget request for next year will be $324 billion, and this is before Congress adds on money for their pet projects. Congressional "pork" amounted to a $6 billion increase in the FY 2001 military budget, according to Senator John McCain.

Republicans would like us to think that the military suffered from malign neglect under President Clinton, but only by using "fuzzy math" could one possibly draw that conclusion. In dollars adjusted for inflation the United States is spending more on the military now than in the mid-1970s, when the Soviet Union and still existed and then superpower arms race was up and running. This year's defense budget is more than the next 8 biggest spenders combined and 22 times the combined military budgets of our fiercest enemies--Libya, North Korea, Cuba, Iraq and Sudan. The U.S. and its allies account for two thirds of the world's military expenditures, dwarfing that of rivals Russia and China.

While conservative ideologues beat the drums for a Pentagon spending bonanza, rational, moderate scenarios like the one laid out by Lawrence Korb, former high level official in the Reagan Pentagon, are completely ignored. Korb argues for a 20% cut in the military budget, comprised entirely of Cold War behemoths like the B-2 and the Seawolf Sub, that would free up $62 billion for education, health care and rebuilding roads and bridges.

Given the money and power behind the Project for a New American Century and fellow travelers like the Center for Security Policy, a small but extremely effective advocate for deployment of an open-ended NMD system, it is no surprise that Korb's proposals haven't gained a sympathetic ear in Washington.

When the Project for a New American Century called for a return to the "Reaganite policy of military strength and moral clarity," to "increase defense spending significantly" they gathered a long list of Washington insiders and power brokers as supporters. While the letter demurred that such views "may not be fashionable today," a number of the signatures belong to close friends and advisors of newly inaugurated President George W. Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as well as the President's brother Governor Jeb Bush, all put their "John Hancock" on the letter, making it crystal clear that if it wasn't fashionable before, it is now.

Frida Berrigan is a Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Policy Center.


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