Mesmerized by the Weapons Mystique
Our bloated military budget
by Mac Lawrence

What is there to say that hasn't already been said? The retired admirals and generals and other high-ranking retired military officers at the Center for Defense Information in Washington D.C. spell out clearly for the president and members of Congress exactly where we could and should cut unneeded weapons systems without lessening our national security - in fact, increasing our security, since we could use the money in so many other important ways to strengthen our country. Columnists write about it. And yet, year after year, all such voices are ignored and the military marches on, gulping down humungous amounts of money for purposes that no longer exist, or never did.

One who studies the military situation and publishes her results is Ruth Leger Sivard. Her 16th edition is titled World Military and Social Expenditures 1996, and in it she has the facts and figures that world leaders - not just those in the U.S. - seem to fail to grasp.

The Foreword to Sivard's new edition is by Patricia Schroeder, a former member of Congress who obviously understands the threat of military build-ups to the world's citizens. She writes: "In the U.S., the end of the Cold War should have unleashed our imagination and resources to diversify strategic planning. We should ask what truly threatens our security: emerging dictatorships or discontent within our own borders; rogue states or violence in our streets; crumbling communist countries or the lack of adequate health care. We must examine and debate our military assumptions, assess the way our security is threatened, and consider strategies beyond military readiness to prevent or deter conflicts."

Schroeder concludes her comments:
"In 24 years with the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. Congress, I have seen the way military policy is made. Decision-making on this subject can lack many things: intellectual leadership, moral courage, and careful analysis, among them. The one ingredient that could change everything is an informed, mobilized, and focused public prepared to secure the government they deserve. It is a debate that is badly needed. The information in these pages prepares us for it."

And so it does. Sivard gives us 55 pages packed with maps, charts, quotes, facts, and figures. She covers not only wars and weapons systems but the social shortcomings we could be addressing if we weren't so militarily minded. When you study her book, everything in it backs up her concluding remarks: "The weapons and strategies elaborated by governments for 'defense' are largely irrelevant to the underlying instabilities and dangers of today. What is needed now is a stronger focus on the threats that touch people in their daily lives - hunger, illness, joblessness, crime. A further steady reduction in the hundreds of billions of dollars spent yearly on military programs could free the resources needed, and insure a more equitable and more peaceful world."

Some Quotes from Sivard's Book

On weapons and war in general:

Global military expenditures today are twice what they were in 1956.

So far in the 20th century, there have been 250 wars and 109,746,000 war-related deaths - more than the total current population of France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Today, more than 90 percent of all casualties of war are noncombatants. Fighting also destroys homes, infrastructure, and agricultural production, creating massive refugee flows. In 1995, some 15.3 million people (refugees) were displaced.

A decreasing - but still thriving - trade in weapons from the major powers sustains the 26 major armed conflicts that raged in 1995 as arms manufacturers aggressively seek to maintain production and find export markets to offset their own governments' reduced procurement.

In Cambodia, one out of every 236 people is an amputee. There are as many landmines planted in Cambodia as there are people (an estimated 10 million mines and a population of 9.9 million).

The UN estimates that 80,000 landmines were cleared worldwide in 1993, but some 2.5 million new mines were sown. Crude anti-personnel landmines can be purchased for as little as $3; removing one mine costs from $200-$1000. Approximately 50 countries have produced and exported anti-personnel mines; some 350 different models are currently available. Most fiendishly, in some countries, mines masquerading as toys have been developed particularly to appeal to children.

On the U.S. military budget:

The United States now appears to be running an arms race against itself, modernizing its nuclear and advanced conventional arsenals against no discernible enemy.

The U.S. military budget exceeds the total military expenditures of the next 13 biggest spenders.

In each of the last two years, the U.S. Congress, supposedly controlled by budget-cutting "fiscal conservatives," has added billions of dollars to the military budget for weapons procurement. In the 1996 budget, Congress added $7 billion more than the Administration requested, and for 1997 the legislature appears likely to increase funding by $12 billion for programs produced in the districts of key members of Congress. The Administration has fought these add-ons, saying that they are "pork" and are not necessary to defend or maintain U.S. national security.

"The problem in defense spending is to figure out how far you should go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without."
Dwight D. Eisenhower, General, U.S. Army,
President of the United States 1953-60

On nuclear arms:

The nuclear powers continue to send contradictory messages. On the one hand, they are all committed to complete nuclear disarmament as an essential component of global nonproliferation. On the other hand, they seem convinced that nuclear weapons are necessary for deterrence for the foreseeable future, and are determined to pursue research programs that will maintain and expand their capability.

$8,000,000,000,000 has been spent on nuclear weapons since 1945.

The world stockpile of nuclear weapons currently represents over 700 times the explosive power used in World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam that altogether killed 44,000,000 people.

"The nuclear weapon is obsolete. I want to get rid of them all."
General Charles Horner, U.S. Space Command, 1994

Since Sivard's latest edition was published, 61 Generals and Admirals from nuclear powers around the world, including 19 from the U.S., released a nuclear disarmament manifesto calling for the abolition of nuclear arms. General Lee Butler (see Timeline November/December 1996), former commander-in-chief of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, described nuclear weapons as..."inherently dangerous, hugely expensive, and militarily inefficient.... [They] condemn the world to live under a dark cloud of perpetual anxiety. Worse, [they] codify mankind's most murderous instincts as a legitimate basis of waging war."

Also not covered in Sivard's book is the new emphasis by Congress, and to a lesser degree by the President, to develop a "national missile defense." Colonel Robert Bowman, who directed such programs in the 1970s, calls the effort, "a mega-billion dollar, treaty-breaking, immoral, illegal, budget-busting turkey."

For further information:

Worldwide Military and Social Expenditures 1996, by Ruth Leger Sivard
available from World Priorities, Inc., Box 25140, Washington D.C. 20007 $7.50

Center for Defense Information
1500 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington D.C. 20005


Note from the Editor: This article is reproduced, slightly edited, from the July-August 1997 issue of the magazine Timeline.

Published July 11, 1997
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