It’s a big week for the U.S. military budget for fiscal 2012 with details of the $553 billion budget – the largest in the nation’s history - being unveiled today by the Pentagon. Also relevant to arms control will be the Energy Department budget and particularly that of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
The budget to be sent to Congress by President Obama comes against a background of calls from both sides of the aisle in Congress for major defense cuts. The military budget is no longer a sacred cow. Defense Secretary Bob Gates says the proposed budget, almost half of the world’s military spend, "represents, in my view, the minimum level of defense spending that is necessary, given the complex and unpredictable array of security challenges the United States faces around the globe."
He has proposed to shave about $78 billion off of previous projections, over five years, though the budget would continue to rise. This plan has been described as modest; Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of the U.S. bipartisan deficit commission, last November called for a $100 billion cut by 2015. In Congress, Pete Stark, a Democrat from California, has proposed freezing the defense budget at 2008 levels to save $182 billion over five years. In contrast, the new chairman of the House Armed Services Chairman, Buck McKeon, a Republican from California, wants the defense budget to increase. He has said he would "oppose any plans that have the potential to damage or jeopardize our national security."
But there are also strong advocates within the Republican Party, including Tea Party-backed freshmen, calling for cuts. Kevin Brady, a conservative from Texas, wants to reduce spending by $153 billion over five years. Brady is the top House Republican on the congressional Joint Economic Committee. And Rand Paul, the Tea Party backed Congressman from Kentucky and son of Ron Paul, said last week that “we will have to look long and hard at the military budget… The most important thing that our government does is our national defense, absolutely," he told a meeting of conservatives in Washington. "But you cannot say that the doubling of the military budget in the last ten years has all been spent wisely and there's not any waste in it."
Military spending has grown as a share of the economy under President Obama. The U.S. national debt is expected to reach $1.5 trillion this year. The government now has to consider the levels of cuts to its defense spend as part of its national security response. And the budget increases to the nuclear weapons infrastructure cannot be isolated from this.
These are the personal views of the author.
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