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    Middle East
     Sep 24, 2008
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 national security.

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 security."

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 Department budget.

"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 Reagan.

"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 year, however.

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 affairs/development/public diplomacy".

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 its security".

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 space.

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%.

(Inter Press Service)

 


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