Saturday, March 12, 2011

money on defense

Dear Editor,

So many different Americans are convinced they know how to spend our tax dollars and balance our national budget. We should stand back and take a look at what we are doing.

A good start is where most of our tax dollars go. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Military Expenditure Database which calculates military expenditure, data for 2009 showed military expenditures by country. 154 countries are listed. Total reported expenditure was $1,567,280,800,000 on defense in 2009. That’s $1.567 trillion. The list was topped by the United States. The U.S. spent $663,255,000,000. That’s $0.66 trillion. About 42% of the total defense spending. The total spent by the second to 18th biggest spenders added up to $0.66 trillion. So the U.S. matched the total spent by the 17 runner-up nations.

A lot of the nations on the list are military allies. The United States Office of the Secretary of State reports that the U.S. presently has six military treaties. NATO is the most widely known. The U.S. has military treaties with 33 nations. So if one compiles the military spending of our allies and adds that to our military expenditure, the total becomes $1,133,776,000,000, or $1.13 trillion. The remaining 120 counties spent $431,480,000,000, or about $0.43 trillion.

Some nations do not have military treaties with the U.S. but can be considered to be friends or allies. These are countries like Mexico, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, etc. Pretty trusting nations. That brings the total of the U.S., allies and friends to 53. Total military friendly expenditure was $1.21 billion. The remaining members total $.35 billion.

So, the U.S. and its 52 military allies and friends spend $0.86 trillion more than our non-allies and non-friends. This non-ally, non-friend list includes China, Russia, Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, most of Africa and the Middle East.

Now, on what does the U.S. spend its military’ money? The Pentagon reports that there are more than 2,500,000 U.S. personnel serving across the planet. And we have military bases spread across each continent. Officially the Pentagon counts 865 base sites, but this omits all our bases in Iraq (likely over 100) and Afghanistan (80 and counting), among many other well-known and secretive bases…so, in the neighborhood of 1,000 bases.

How much does overseeing this sprawling foreign footprint really cost? The exact cost of managing troops, bases, fleets and material overseas is difficult to determine. The think tank Foreign Policy in Focus estimates at least $250 billion.

Now let’s move some numbers. What if we closed 500 bases? We’ll assume we’d save $125 billion. Let’s also account for the fact that we no longer have a cold war with the Soviet Union. My guess is more than 50% of our military budget during the cold war was to stop communism. Maybe, we’re still spending about $300 billion on defense to stop communism. It must be agreed there’s a bit of double adding with the closing of bases and reduction in fighting communism. To compromise, we’ll cut $350 billion from military spending. How would that change the military world as it presently exists?

The world would still spend about $1.21 trillion on the military. The U.S. would spend $0.31 trillion, or 26% of the world’s total. The U.S., allies and friends would spend $0.86 trillion, or 71% of the world’s military total. Does that make us feel safe enough?

Now, before reacting, think about that. Maybe the referenced numbers above are not exact. Maybe my 50% assumption on the communist fight is not correct. But, I must be close. We can’t use the argument that the congress knows best. We cannot use the argument of loss of jobs. 71% of the world’s military total. Can’t we, our allies and friends make this work?

The non-ally list would spend about $0.35 trillion. The U.S., allies and friends would outspend the non-allied list by $0.86 trillion.

It seems like an annual U.S. military cut of $0.35 trillion is a good starting point. Over 25 years, that would be a savings of $8.75 trillion. It would be nice to have that back in the bank. Once we get it there, we can argue about our priorities; but, first things first.

This letter does not mention what wars do. Families around the world already know that.

George Vierra
St. Helena, CA
16 February 2011

The above letter was sent in February to the editor of the major newspaper in every U.S.  capital plus several other important dailies.  It was also sent to a few other media organizations and media avenues. No publication or response. The disproportionate nature of U.S. military spending seems so obvious; I wonder why no known national figure has broached the subject.

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