Conventional wisdom, that dour specter, seems to be saying we don’t have enough money to fix many of our biggest problems, such as global warming or shifting to carbon-free energy. But wait! The Pentagon itself has determined that there are plenty of resources that the Defense Department could do without, according to the Boston Globe:
A senior Pentagon advisory group, in a series of bluntly worded briefings, is warning President-elect Barack Obama that the Defense Department’s current budget is “not sustainable,” and he must scale back or eliminate some of the military’s most prized weapons programs … Pentagon insiders and defense budget specialists say the Pentagon has been on a largely unchecked spending spree since 2001 that will prove politically difficult to curtail but nevertheless must be reined in.
The New York Times concurs:
After years of unfettered growth in military budgets, Defense Department planners, top commanders and weapons manufacturers now say they are almost certain that the financial meltdown will have a serious impact on future Pentagon spending.
The Defense Department by itself spends over $500 billion per year, plus over $100 billion for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, plus other expenses — we’re spending close to $1 trillion per year for national security.
But what could possibly be more important for our long-term national security than building a healthy economy and preventing Florida from going under water? Below the fold, some logic on why our national security would be stronger in the long-term if the military budget was seriously cut back now.
History provides a very straightforward lesson: Those countries that can amass the largest pool of industrial resources are the countries that can build the largest militaries. For instance, the United States produced at least 40 percent of the world’s manufactured goods before World War II and had one of the world’s smallest armies, yet it was able to create the world’s largest military because of its factories (the classic explanation of this point is the subject of the book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy).
The Soviet Union also built up one of the world’s largest military establishments, but it used its manufacturing capacity mostly to produce military machinery, instead of renewing the factories that made its military equipment possible. The same process is threatening the U.S. In the long-run, if the manufacturing system in the U.S. becomes so anemic that it can’t even be used to rebuild itself, the U.S. military (and economy) will slip into second-class status.
The current implosion of the automobile industry is a symptom of this trend. Without the help of a thriving manufacturing ecosystem, even with competent management, the car companies would be hard pressed to compete with national manufacturing systems such as those that exist in Germany and Japan. Those countries are not burdened by a huge military establishments and a corporate elite who are enthusiastically dismantling the manufacturing capacity of the nation.
We have a deteriorating manufacturing capacity in addition to a bloated military establishment. And on top of all this, the entire energy infrastructure needs to be replaced. The fossil-fuel economy is doomed: Oil and natural gas will become more and more difficult to find, and even the U.S. coal supply is limited. In addition, if we don’t want to lose Florida and New York City, if we don’t want America’s breadbasket to turn into the Great Midwestern Desert, if we don’t want Death Valley to engulf the entire Southwest, then we’d better stop using fossil fuels and prevent climate change.
So let’s say we took several hundred billion dollars annually out of the military budget and directed that money toward the construction of a vast, modern smart electrical grid, a high-speed rail network, and a national wind farm system that would provide baseload electrical power [PDF]. If all of these systems were made in the U.S., the industrial ecosystem that has been so recently clearcut could be regrown. And with a thriving industrial system based on clean, renewable energy, with a geographically stable country, then we would have the capability to rebuild a dominant military system, if that should ever become necessary again.
In other words, a green, manufacturing-centered economy would mean energy independence, economic independence, and no need for a future Declaration of Independence.
And that’s why our long-term national security depends on cutting the military budget now.