The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Mike Brand is an adjunct professor of human rights and genocide studies at the University of Connecticut, a senior fellow at George Mason University’s Raphaël Lemkin Genocide Prevention Program, and an atrocities prevention and peacebuilding advocate. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
This spring, President Joe Biden is poised to ask Congress for the largest defense budget in history. These budget increases would be on top of an already historically high defense budget.
At the end of 2022, Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law. The bipartisan bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Democrat-controlled Congress, appropriated $858 billion in defense spending. That $858 billion was $45 billion more than Biden requested and $90 billion more than last year’s defense spending bill.
In every election cycle, voters, politicians and pundits are quick to question how we are going to pay for programs like Medicaid and Social Security. Budget hawks, however, rarely ask how, in 2022, we can afford a $90 billion increase in defense spending, or the $858 billion total price tag. Now, Biden wants to increase defense spending even more.
Progressive members of Congress like U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, have spoken out against these absurd increases, but it is not enough. Voters need to start paying attention to foreign policy and defense spending when they cast their votes.
Foreign policy is not often a top priority for voters, yet we are spending nearly $1 trillion per year on our military and we have virtually no evidence to suggest that military operations abroad are successful.
This is not just about absurd military spending, it is about where we spend our money and why; what our priorities are as a country; what we value and what we want to achieve. There are, for example, several domestic and international issues that could be addressed if we prioritized them over military spending.
The United States consistently spends more on its military than the next nine highest-spending countries combined. Is that really necessary? Is the U.S. military actually effective at solving international issues? I suspect the answer to both is “no.”
To respond effectively to today’s challenges, the U.S. must invest more money in conflict prevention, good governance and civil society support. It is long past time to cut military spending and increase funding for the diplomatic and development arms of U.S. foreign policy.
The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development operate with a small fraction of the military’s budget. For fiscal year 2023, the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act was funded at $59.85 billion plus an additional $16.57 billion in assistance to Ukraine and Ukraine-related assistance. That combined $76.42 billion has to pay for all of the U.S. embassies around the world, all of our development programs, all humanitarian response and U.S. contributions to international organizations, among other things.
The U.S. spends less than 10 percent of the military’s budget on all of that, and we wonder why we are not seeing the results we want to see.
The global challenges we face today are not ones that our military can solve. The U.S. is not sending our military into countries around the world to resolve conflicts, protect people from human rights abuses or respond to famines and droughts. In cases when our military is deployed, it is not clear that it actually results in a positive outcome.
On a more tangible level, the military can throw more money and more bombs at a problem without ever assessing if their efforts are working. We’ve seen this with the “war on terror,” bombings in Somalia, bungled efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and countless other places. The Department of Defense has never even passed an annual audit. The most recent audit showed that the department was unable to account for 61 percent of its assets.
The military doesn’t even effectively monitor how many civilians are killed or how many people are pushed toward extremism with actions like drone strikes. Last year, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs, D-California, wrote to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin telling him they were “troubled” that the Defense Department’s annual report to Congress “appears to undercount civilian casualties.”
So long as we keep spending an inordinate amount of money on our military, we will continue to have a military-first approach to foreign policy. This colors the way we look at the world and how the world looks at us.
To get out of our military-first mentality, voters need to start paying attention to candidates’ positions on foreign policy, how their elected officials choose to spend our tax dollars and how presidents conduct foreign policy.