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Still spending too much hope on weapons


The voice of the peace movement in America is struggling to be heard in the presidential campaign. But both parties seem to be deaf. Curbing America’s massive military spending here and around the world seems destined to be the issue that no candidate will bring up.

America’s obsession with the military continues and deepens. The most costly of all the mistakes is the $39 billion that the United States has spent since 1983 on the national missile defense, or Star Wars. The first mistake after the Cold War occurred when President Clinton failed to kill Star Wars in 1993 when he could have.

The United States has nothing to show for its $39 billion. The Center for Defense Information, a group made up of retired high military officials, is the authority for the conclusion that the technique needed to make Star Wars work simply does not exist.

The United States military budget continues to rise. By fiscal year 2003 the United States will have reached the Cold War level even though the Soviet Union is gone and the total number of U.S. military personnel is one-third smaller than a decade ago.

The Energy Department expects to renovate more than 6,000 aging nuclear warheads, although experts say that 2,500 to 3,000 refurbished warheads would give the United States the ability to counter any possible imaginary threat from any rogue nation. The cost for this initiative will be in addition to the $4.6 billion the United States spends each year to maintain its nuclear arsenal.

Now that President Vladimir Putin of Russia has persuaded the Duma to ratify START II, the United States would be required to reduce its nuclear stockpile to 3,000 or 3,500. The United States is also required to abide by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The Pentagon, along with Russia, is trying to work out some compromise to allow both countries to build modified missile defense systems. The ratification of SALT II by Russia should, however, give the United States an additional reason to cancel Star Wars. Little initiative to do this voluntarily is coming from the Pentagon or the White House.

In preliminary discussions with Russia on a possible START III agreement, the United States has proposed a target of no more than 2,000 or 2,500 warheads. Russia countered with a ceiling of 1,500. The United States is resisting presumably because of its fear of losing dominance.

On another front the United States continues and, indeed, accelerates its sale of weapons to governments around the world. The State Department is considering the sale of sophisticated military hardware to Turkey. Since 1980, that country has bought $15 billion worth of U.S. weapons. They have been used to fight against the Kurdish people organized in the Kurdish Workers Party.

Another area of contention is the Pentagon’s ever more difficult task of recruiting. In fiscal 1999 the Defense Department spent $1.8 billion on recruitment. That added up to $9,677 for each of the 186,000 young people recruited to the military.

Some of that money was spent on recruitment in some 2,700 high schools across the nation. About 40 percent of all of those who enroll in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps join the military. The number of high school units where this recruitment will transpire will increase to 3,500 by 2005.

But there has been at least one good development in the way the federal government looks on the military. In 1999, a version of the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers cleared the Congress. Originally filed in 1993 by Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., the law directs the Secretary of State to develop criteria by which to restrict the sale of arms; countries are not eligible unless they promote democracy, advance human rights, refrain from acts of aggression contrary to international law and decline to sell weapons of mass destruction. But the law does not restrict the United States from exporting arms abroad.

But this welcome development hardly offsets America’s negative attitudes on curbs on land mines, its refusal to become a participant in the International Criminal Court and its persistence in offering training to the military leaders in Latin America.

The United States is frozen in a mindset that derives from the 40 years of the Cold War. Mr. Clinton, the first U.S. president since the Soviet empire collapsed in 1990, has been unable or unwilling to change that mindset. A change in American attitudes has to come from the White House, stimulated and supplemented by organizations like Pax Christi and other peace groups.

One president, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, understood all of this. Here are his wise words: “There is no way in which a country can satisfy the craving for absolute security, but it can bankrupt itself morally and economically in attempting to reach that illusory goal through arms alone.”

Following that thoughtful comment are Eisenhower’s well known words that deserve endless repetition: “Every gun that is made, every war ship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

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

National Catholic Reporter, May 12, 2000