By Mark Robinson
Mr Trump has finally left the building but among the many toxic legacies he leaves behind is also one of the most under-reported – the largest military budget on planet earth.
$740 Billion dollars will be spent by the Pentagon in just 12 months. In contrast that other super-power, China spends under $300 billion US per year. And from there the budgets of the top ten defence spenders drops dramatically – All of the other seven countries spend less than $100 billion US each year.
Trump’s bloated military budget is in many ways a continuation of a bi-partisan view that tens of billions more each year is never enough. Obama’s final defence spending bill was $587B.
In the US so called “discretionary spending” is all spending decided by Congress and military allocations now make up almost 60% of the total. That means that all other Congress approved expenditure, for a multitude of government services, is now dwarfed by defence funding.
Very few politicians in the US oppose the massive spending on weapons, troops and military equipment. This year The Republican-led Senate voted 84 to 13 to approve Trump’s latest bill after it passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives by a vote of 335 to 78.
But do American citizens actually support increasing militarism year in year out? Not according to David Swanson, the Executive Director of World Beyond War
“The U.S. government only represents U.S. public opinion occasionally and by coincidence. It’s effectively an oligarchy. Polls have for decades found the public wanting to move money out of militarism,” He said.
In an effort to bolster support for defence spending, he says the government uses a variety of questionable PR tactics.
“The U.S. government puts some billion dollars a year into military advertising. It also quietly pays sports leagues to celebrate troops and flags…and promotes insidious practices like thanking “the troops” at every opportunity, offering military discounts on every product, creating special military parking spaces, letting military onto airplanes first, etc. “
While massive arms companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon and General Dynamics appear to have enormous influence in Washington, Swanson says there are some positive signs of change.
“Bernie (Sanders) became the soon-to-be chair of the Senate Budget Committee. Congress Members Barbara Lee and Mark Pocan have said they will create a “Defence” Spending Reduction Caucus. The Chair of the Progressive Caucus, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal says they will work to move money out of militarism. There are new members who speak about militarism in a way that used to be much less common.”
There is also evidence that many Americans are sick and tired of what has come to be termed “endless wars”. Years of failure and loss in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere has altered perceptions.
Nonetheless the drumbeat for more war and more militarism is never far away. Trump has hammered home his ridiculous talking points on scores of occasions, claiming that he “re-built the military like no one else”. In what was surely one of his most ludicrous lies he has claimed repeatedly that at one stage during his tenure the armed forces ran out of ammunition.
Then there was his laughable policy, that no one wanted, but he forced it through – the establishment of the “Space Force”. This will become the sixth branch of the military and is set to cost at least $13 billion over the next five years.
Trump claimed in his early days to be something of an anti-war president, saying he wanted to end America’s involvement in foreign conflicts and to stop the so called ‘endless wars’. In the final days of his term he did make big cuts to troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but those wars have not ended. His claims also beg the question – if he genuinely wanted to end conflicts why does the US need such an enormous military budget?
While taking on the immense power of war profiteers seems incredibly daunting to many, David Swanson says nothing is impossible. He points to the worldwide divestment movement where Pension Funds, Universities and local councils are increasingly taking their money out of the arms industry.
Another very positive development for those concerned about militarism is the amazing victory won by activists on nuclear weapons. Just a few days ago (22 January) several years of grassroots activism culminated in the UN Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons coming into force.
86 nations have now ratified the treaty which aims to eventually ban nuclear weapons and attach stigma to them, just like landmines, cluster munitions, chemical and biological weapons.
In October 2020 The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commended the countries who had signed the treaty saying it “represents a meaningful commitment towards the total elimination of nuclear weapons, which remains the highest disarmament priority of the United Nations”. The UN chief said the new international law “is a tribute to the survivors of nuclear explosions and tests, many of whom advocated for this treaty”.
The Australian government has refused to sign the treaty despite claiming to support nuclear disarmament.
David Swanson from World Beyond War dismisses the idea that overcoming militarism and the easy resort to armed conflict is unachievable.
“If we can end the war on Yemen, why not five others? If we can end weapons sales to two countries, why not 150 others? If we can go from 0 to 50 Congress Members favouring impeachment of Trump in five hours…what basis could there be for claiming nothing can be changed?”
“We should outgrow the need for hope or despair…take on the moral responsibility to try our hardest, and get to work — which is far more fulfilling than not doing so.”