Income tax returns are due next Wednesday, April 15. Where do our tax dollars go?
The charts below (click for full page versions) show estimates of how our income tax dollars were spent in FY2008, which ended last September 30 (data from Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2009, Table 8.7). As you can see, the government estimated last year that $604 billion or 53.1% of all discretionary funds would go to the military. And this does not include the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Though this amount is more than twice as much as the $295 billion spent in 2000, President Obama's budget calls for increasing the military budget in FY2010.
Much more over the fold about military spending, real security, and what you can do to bring about change.
These charts show the part of the federal budget that Congress and the President directly allocate each year (with the funds derived from our income taxes, corporation taxes, excise taxes, estate and gift taxes, and other miscellaneous taxes). These figures exclude expenditures for Social Security, Medicare, and federal highways since these programs are paid from dedicated taxes maintained in separate trust funds. They also exclude interest paid on the national debt since that spending is "mandatory", not "discretionary" -- even though much of this debt was caused by discretionary military spending in earlier years. Medicaid funding is also considered mandatory and is not included in these figures. Note, because the FY2009 budget was not approved until February 2009, final data for FY2008 will not be available until May 2009.
The chart below compares the budget proposed by President Obama for FY2010, Table S-3 to the amounts actually spent in FY2009 (the last Bush budget), FY2008, and FY2001 (the last Clinton budget) on the military (including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) and on all other discretionary items.
The estimated military spending of $697 billion for the current year (FY2009) represents an average of about $5,960 from each of the 117 million households in the US.
U.S. Military Spending in the Past 70 Years
Military spending in inflation-adjusted dollars is now greater than at any time during the Cold War and even greater than during the peak spending years of the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the Persian Gulf War (see the chart below -- data from Table 6.1).
Is It Needed?
The United States now has the most powerful military that has ever existed in the history of the world. We have more than enough firepower to obliterate any enemy. The nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal are powerful enough to destroy much of the planet and make our world completely uninhabitable. Moreover, U.S. conventional military force is mighty enough that we can wage two large wars simultaneously far from our shores. The U.S. has over 800 military bases around the world and 11 aircraft carrier battle groups circling the planet (and no potential adversary has more than 1). The U.S. spends almost as much on the military as all the rest of the world combined. The U.S. spends vastly more on its military than any possible enemies: roughly 6 times as much as China, 10 times as much as Russia, 99 times as much as Iran, and almost 55 times as much as the combined spending of the six "rogue" states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria).
Despite this massive amount of spending on the military, 47% of Americans are still fearful that our military is somehow inadequate. This may be because most mainstream commentary on the military is provided by pro-military retired generals, many of them on the payroll of military contractors.
President Eisenhower warned us in his farewell speech in 1961 to be wary of the military-industrial complex:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
Rather than building a defense structure that protects us, Congress (especially the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services), the Department of Defense, and military contractors have forged an Iron Triangle that provides money and power for all of them -- but at our expense. Military contractors spend enormous amounts lobbying and giving large campaign contributions to Congress and in turn Congress provides them with lucrative, often no-bid, contracts and weak oversight. Military contractors also lobby top DoD administrators and offer them high-paying jobs after they leave the government (revolving door syndrome) and in turn DoD administrators lobby Congress for more weapons and overlook contractor cost overruns.
Not only is this wasteful and corrupt, but it provides no real benefit. For example, the government wastes money on complete boondoggles like the "Star Wars" missile defense program:
According to the Pentagon, since its inception in 1983, missile defense has cost $150 billion. Twenty years after proponents of the system could no longer justify its purpose by the Cold War, missile defense still does not work. It is the single most expensive weapons program, (after nuclear weapons) and has never yielded a significant result. It is the military equivalent of throwing money, in tens of billions of dollars, down the toilet.
The program provides a case study in political corruption. A story by the New York Times, "Insider’s Projects Drained Missile-Defense Millions" revealed that missile defense spending has been driven by insider lobbying with the sole intention of making money, at times even at odds with actual Department of Defense procurement objectives.
Massive military spending, especially if it is corrupt and wasteful, does not provide security. The 9/11 terrorist attacks demonstrated that 19 guys (mostly from Saudi Arabia, an ally) armed with box cutters can attack the United States more effectively than massive armies. Huge expenditures on military personnel and weapons (especially on weapons designed for use in the Cold War) are ineffective in protecting us. It is also clear -- as all the U.S. intelligence agencies have warned us -- that the Iraq war and the "War on Terrorism" have actually made us less safe.
Real security does not come by threatening or bullying, but by respecting and working together with others.
- The best security is provided by not having enemies, and the best way to achieve this is to treat other countries and their people well. Invading and occupying other countries, supporting dictators, and torturing people who disagree with us are great ways to make lots of long-lasting enemies. As New York Times reporter Stephen Kinzer documented in his book Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, in the past 110 years, the United States has used military force in dozens of places around the world to gain access to oil and other natural resources, secure cheap labor, stifle dissent, and crush the efforts of opposition political movements. For example, the United States has obstructed independence movements in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Nicaragua. It has staged covert actions to overthrow democratically-elected governments in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, and Chile in 1973. And it has invaded the Dominican Republic (most recently in 1965), Grenada in 1983, Panama in 1989, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003. Moreover, the U.S. has supported and helped to arm dozens of dictators including the Shah of Iran (Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi), P.W. Botha in apartheid South Africa, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, General Suharto in Indonesia, Francois "Doc" Duvalier and Jean Claude Duvalier (Baby Doc) in Haiti, George Papadopoulos in Greece, Anastasio Somoza, Jr. in Nicaragua, King Fahd bin Abdul of Saudi Arabia, and General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan.
- The second best way to provide security is to have large numbers of strong allies around the world and to build trust by negotiating treaties and then adhering to them. Repudiating treaties like the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, ignoring important initiatives like the Kyoto Treaty on climate change, and launching crazy, unilateral military adventures based on lies (ike the Iraq war) are great ways to lose friends and allies. Providing development aid to poor countries -- aid that improves health, education, and civil justice -- wins friends and reduces grievances.
- The third best way to provide security is to build strong domestic support. Spending all our tax money on the military instead of on important domestic needs is a great way to impoverish our country and undercut domestic support for our government and society.
- The best way to provide security against terrorist organizations is to address their political grievances or to use police and intelligence agencies to arrest or kill their leaders. A recent Rand Corporation research study ("How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida") found:
All terrorist groups eventually end. But how do they end? The evidence since 1968 indicates that most groups have ended because (1) they joined the political process (43 percent) or (2) local police and intelligence agencies arrested or killed key members (40 percent). Military force has rarely been the primary reason for the end of terrorist groups...
But What About Toppling Repressive Regimes?
Don't we need a strong military to save people from oppressive and genocidal regimes? Actually, the most effective and most ethical means to overthrow vicious dictators and undermine horribly repressive regimes is nonviolent action carried out by civic groups within those countries. For example, in the last three decades, nonviolent action has toppled the apartheid regime in South Africa, deposed the dictatorships of Slobodan Milosevich in Yugoslavia, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and brought down the former Soviet Union and its communist satellite states (including Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania). Overthrowing those regimes incurred relatively few casualties and wrought relatively little destruction. The nonviolent overthrow of these regimes has mostly left these countries stronger, more civilized, and much more free and democratic.
A 2005 study by Freedom House (2.3 MB pdf) found that in the 67 cases since 1972 in which dictatorial systems fell or new states arose from the disintegration of multinational states, "civic resistance was a key factor in driving 50 of 67 transitions" -- over 70%. In 32 of the 67 countries (nearly 48%),
strong, broad-based nonviolent popular fronts or civic coalitions were highly active, and in many cases central to steering the process of change... Now, years after the transition, 24 of the countries (75 percent) where a strong nonviolent civic movement was present are Free and democratic states and 8 (25 percent) are Partly Free states with some space for civic and political life.
In contrast, only one transition to freedom (Panama, 1989) was brought about by an outside military force. They also found that
the stronger and more cohesive the nonviolent civic coalition operating in societies in the years immediately preceding the transition, the deeper the transformation in the direction of freedom and democracy.
Spending on military force, in inflation-adjusted dollars, has grown to a level about 23 times as high as it was in 1940. Much of these expenditures have been used, not to protect our citizens from harm, but to invade and occupy other countries, support dictatorships, topple democratically-elected governments, and otherwise "project power" and secure our "national interests" by controlling the rest of the world. In reality, this has undermined our security and bankrupted our country. We could drastically reduce our military budget by focusing strictly on defense of our territory, which could probably be easily accomplished with $50-100 billion/year. Then we could devote more resources to efforts that would actually make us safer: collaborate with our allies, negotiate with our opponents, provide support to international bodies like the United Nations and the World Court, build up our own economy (especially local, renewal energy), protect the environment, provide aid to impoverished countries, support human rights throughout the world, and provide support to civic movements that use nonviolent action to challenge and undermine repressive regimes.
Five Things You Can Do
- On Tax Day (Wednesday, April 15), distribute leaflets to people dropping off their tax returns at your local Post Office. Write your own leaflet, or use the one prepared by the War Resisters League: Pie Chart.
- Write to your members of Congress and urge them to cut the military budget. FCNL provides an easy form.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
- Support an organization working for peace.
- Join the local chapter of a national peace organization like Peace Action or Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
Some other resources:
War Resisters League (WRL) budget pie chart (pdf)
"Total military and national security spending in the U.S. federal budget" Wallstats
Congressional Progressive Caucus' Budget for FY2010
National Priorities Project's alternative uses of military money
Cartoon video by True Majority's Ben Cohen (of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream) on a Common Sense budget (2005) (3 minutes)
National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund
"Putting War Waste on the Chopping Block", by David Swanson, AfterDowningStreet.org, February 4, 2009
"Keeping Military Spending in Balance with the Nation’s Priorities", Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)
"Drop the military budget" Voters for Peace
"An Analysis of the House and Senate Budget Plans", Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), April 1, 2009
"Guns, Butter, and Obama" by Conn Hallinan, Foreign Policy in Focus, December 18, 2008
"The Pentagon Strangles Our Economy: Why the U.S. Has Gone Broke" by Chalmers Johnson, Le Monde diplomatique, April 26, 2008
"Nearly 7 in 10 major U.S. arms programs over budget", by Jim Wolf, Reuters, March 30, 2009.
"The Chaos in America’s Vast Security Budget" by Winslow T. Wheeler, Center for Defense Information (CDI), February 4, 2008.
Other Important Articles
"Arms control advocates try to slow exports", by Jen Dimascio, Politico, January 15, 2009.
"Pacts Americana?" opinion column by David Kaye, K. Russell LaMotte, and Peter Hoey, New York Times, December 15, 2006 and a chart of treaties pending approval by the United States
This diary provides updated FY2009 data to a diary posted on March 31, 2008.