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The military-industrial complex just marches on


When I read in early January that President Clinton had agreed to support the Pentagon’s request for an increase of some $125 billion over the next six years, I became certain that the United States had failed to produce a new foreign policy for the world after the Cold War.

All my anxieties and misgivings about U.S. foreign policy in the six years of the Clinton administration coalesced into the conviction that the United States had lost an unprecedented opportunity to fashion for the entire world a policy that would relieve hunger, promote democracy and bring stability to troubled regions.

Since the Warsaw Pact and world communism dissolved in 1990, the entire human family has been looking to the United States for moral leadership that could usher in a new era of peace.

The military has not rethought its goals since 1990. The one review the Pentagon conducted resulted in the questionable finding that the United States must be prepared to wage two regional wars at the same time. That theory has never been approved by Congress following hearings or evaluated in the crucible of public opinion.

It is self-evident that the world has changed radically since the disappearance of the Soviet Union. The nations of the world do not need military jets or sophisticated armaments; they need the skill and resources to promote economic stability and make adequate provision for health and education for their people.

America could help make that happen. Instead, the White House chooses to invest the nation’s wealth in the largest boost in military spending since the heyday of the Reagan buildup. The Air Force will be able to buy more F-22 fighters, the Army can acquire new Comanche attack helicopters and the Navy will build new ships.

In so doing, the president may have headed off a potentially dangerous issue in the race for the White House in the year 2000. Vice President Gore will not have to face charges of letting America’s guard down. But meanwhile the opportunity to rethink the military policies of the United States in a postcommunist world is slipping away.

For me, the concessions of 1999 to the Pentagon symbolize the failure of the White House to engage Congress and the country in a fundamental re-examination of what America should do as the human family struggles with feeding, sheltering and keeping all its members safe.

The White House has rejected all the voices since 1990 that have been pressing for new foreign policy priorities. Arms control experts, activists and academics in the peace community and scores of religious organizations feel spurned by Clinton as he agrees to go along with the Pentagon with business as usual.

The Council for a Livable World and similar organizations get regular assessments from military experts of what the United States needs to deal with its current challenges. Their estimate is nowhere close to the $260 billion available to the Pentagon this year.

There certainly is no need for the entire world to be spending $780 billion on arms this year.

The world scene has changed, but neither the White House nor the Pentagon seems to have heard the good news. The military is still operating with 80 percent of its Cold War budget and much the same attitude.

The military establishment in this country is awesome. It includes 1,396,000 men and women on active duty, 877,000 in the reserves and 747,000 full-time civilians. Imagine the impact if only a fraction of this vast armada joined the 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers serving the poor in useful ways.

Supervision of the sprawling world of the Department of Defense seems to be beyond even the Congress. There are 122 separate kinds of accounting used by the Department of Defense -- so many that even the Pentagon’s inspector general admits the need for reform. And although there is every indication that the country’s military needs are shrinking, the Pentagon asked Congress for 54 new slots for generals and admirals this year.

It should also be remembered that the Pentagon resisted and prevented America’s acceptance of the international ban on land mines whose advocates captured last year’s Nobel Peace Prize. The Pentagon blocked U.S. participation in the new International Criminal Court, a sort of permanent Nuremberg Court, and it was the Pentagon that spent $35 billion in 1998 monitoring and maintaining some 12,500 nuclear warheads.

Opportunities to protest the latest surge in defense spending will probably be minimal, since the administration and Congress usually push such measures through as a matter of routine.

There is one sign of hope. Dale Bumpers, longtime arms control advocate, took office Jan. 4 as the new director of the Center for Defense Information. After 24 years as a Democratic senator from Arkansas, Bumpers now heads up an organization composed of retired high-ranking military officers devoted to developing a sensible military policy for the United States.

Widely regarded as a leader on arms control issues, Bumpers will carry forward the center’s work seeking a sensible and balanced military policy. Bumpers opposed plans for an elaborate missile defense system, fought against the F-22 and supported procurement reform at the Pentagon.

The present dominance of the Pentagon and its arms merchants reminds one of the familiar but distressingly true observation of President Dwight Eisenhower in his farewell address of Jan. 17, 1961. The only U.S. general to be president in the 20th century said:

“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” n

Jesuit Fr. Robert Drinan is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

National Catholic Reporter, January 22, 1999