(This was submitted to the Letters to the Editor section of the Register Star here in Hudson. Not clear at the moment whether it will be published.)
Discussions of the Federal budget almost never mention the defense department. Both political parties continue in the thrall of what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex”. The defense budget is off limits.
But, can we afford this military establishment? The US, with just 4.5% of the world’s population, supports almost 50% of the world’s expenditures on war. The US has over 700 military bases outside of the country ( Base Structure Report 2010 – downloads a PDF file). According to a 2010 DOD report there are 369,000 military personnel overseas plus the 140,000 +/- in Iraq and Afghanistan. 52,440 are in Germany, 35,688 in Japan, 28,500 in Republic of Korea, and 9,660 in Italy to name just a few countries.
Do you feel safer or more prosperous as a result of this global military presence? Is all of this military really making us more secure or is it contributing to a sense of occupation and external threat around the world. The US is not universally viewed benevolently. The current uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East all involve regimes (excepting Syria) that have been direct recipients of US support, even our current evil-empire candidate Qaddafi.
How would you feel if foreign troops were stationed in Columbia County?
Whether you see this military might protecting democracy and our values around the world, or, to pick a polar opposite view, as an occupying force sustaining our global empire, you have to ask, can we afford it?
We all recognize that the US is no longer the preeminent economy in the world. We are just the biggest, but no longer the most dynamic. Can we afford to expend 20% of the Federal budget on defense and security when our competitors are spending just a fraction of that? On a per capita basis other countries spend much less. China 4%, Japan 19%, South Korea 23%, Canada 26%, Germany 26%, France 46% and UK 44% (Wikipedia: military expenditures per capita)
What could we do with the hundreds of $billions we currently spend projecting our military outside of the US? Fix our crumbling interstate highway system, build a modern air traffic control system, build high speed trains in the megalopolises, or fund universal daycare and HeadStart. I am sure that you could come up with other ideas. I bet we could retire the national debt and reduce taxes all at the same time.