Call for more balanced security budgets
By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - As the United States struggles to deal with what some analysts say
is its most serious financial crisis in decades, a group of experts called on
Monday for major changes in the way Washington spends money to protect its
The group, which was convened by the left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies
(IPS) and the Foreign Policy in Focus think-tank, is renewing its call for the
creation of a ''Unified Security Budget'' (USB) that would feature significant
increases in spending for international diplomacy and homeland security while
reducing the current half-trillion-dollar Pentagon budget.
The Pentagon's budget - which does not include the US$15 billion
a month it is spending on military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - is set
to increase by some $40 billion next year, more money than Washington spends
annually on the State Department.
Indeed, the US is currently spending $16 on military programs for every dollar
it spends on diplomacy, according to the report, "A Unified Security Budget for
the United States: FY 2009." That ratio will increase to 18:1 next year, when
the Pentagon is likely to get nearly $540 billion, while the State Department's
allocation is likely to fall short of $40 billion, $8 billion of which will be
earmarked for foreign military and security assistance.
Ironically, top US officials, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have
deplored the growing imbalance between the Pentagon and State Department
budgets, even while they support increases in the Pentagon's budget.
"Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs ... remains
disproportionately small relative what we spend on the military ...," Gates
warned in a much-noted speech last November. "... There is a need for a
dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national
That appeal, however, went unheeded by the administration of President George W
Bush, which failed to request any substantial increase in next year's State
"In the last budget Gates will be officially responsible for, he made the
problem worse," noted Miriam Pemberton, an IPS senior fellow and co-author of
the new report along with Lawrence Korb, a fellow at the Center for American
Progress who also served as a senior Pentagon official under president Ronald
"It's quintessential 'Washington business as usual' that keeps the goal of
rebalancing security resources firmly ensconced as what everybody wants, and
nobody does," she added.
In light of the ongoing financial crisis - and the Treasury's proposed, and
still-uncertain, $700 billion bail-out plan to overcome it - any increases in
the diplomatic budget or foreign aid are likely to be even more difficult to
obtain unless congress can find ways to reduce spending in other areas.
The idea behind the USB, however, is precisely to facilitate such trade-offs by
incorporating in the same budget spending for the military, or what the report
calls "offence"; homeland security, or "defense"; and diplomacy, foreign aid
and peacekeeping, or "prevention".
Historically, the three budgets - for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland
Security and the State Department - have been appropriated along separate
tracks in congress, permitting lobbyists, especially from the armed forces and
the powerful defense industry, with bases or operations in virtually every
state and congressional district, disproportionate influence. As noted by Gates
last year, diplomacy "simply does not have the built-in domestic constituency
of defense programs".
The notion that a USB could be useful in rebalancing the budgets for all three
instruments of national power has gathered significant support over the past
In addition to Gates' appeals to increase the State Department's budget, a
group of 50 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals called "for
shifting the emphasis of US foreign policy from one that relies heavily on
military might to one that elevates the value of diplomacy and development",
while a Bush-appointed advisory committee on transformational diplomacy called
for the creation of a joint congressional committee that would "set spending
targets across all major components of the US national security establishment's
budget: defense, intelligence, homeland security and foreign
Yet another commission convened by congress and appointed by Bush to make
recommendations on foreign aid called last December for creating a "National
Security Budget" that would combine the Pentagon and State Department budgets
and increase the latter by as much as 10% and double foreign aid levels.
Yet more recently, Thomas Fingar, the US intelligence community's top analyst,
warned this month that US military power will be "the least significant" asset
in extending Washington's influence in the world.
"We need to be engaging the world by other means," Pemberton said, noting that
the USB "lays out a framework for change in the way the US defines and achieves
The report calls for some $61 million in cuts to military programs over the
next year, including about $25 billion by reducing the US nuclear arsenals;
confining Washington's national missile defense program to research, rather
than deployment; and halting programs that could contribute to an arms race in
Another $24 billion could be saved in scaling back or stopping research and
development (R&D) and production of hi-tech weapons, such as the Future
Combat Systems Program, the V-22 Osprey military aircraft, the Virtinia Class
Submarine, and the Trident II nuclear missile, that have come under strong
criticism even from within the Pentagon.
Five billion dollars more could be saved by scrapping two active US Air Force
wings and one aircraft carrier group which many defense experts believe are
unnecessary or redundant, and another $10 billion that have been appropriated
but unspent could simply be cancelled.
The resulting savings could be re-allocated to defensive and preventive
programs, including foreign aid and peacekeeping, according to the report,
which lays out possible trade-offs. If the Virginia Class Submarine were
canceled, for example, the $850 million earmarked for it could be used to pay
all US arrears to United Nations and other international organizations.
Similarly, the $2.4 billion that could be saved by halting the purchase of V-22
Ospreys could be used to triple federal R&D funding for renewable energy
and energy efficiency programs, reducing the US nuclear arsenal and eliminating
the Trident II could free up a total of $15.6 billion that could be used to
increase US development assistance by 60%.