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Military spending threatens nation’s priorities

Pentagon spending will rise to a record $360 billion in the 2003 fiscal year if the defense establishment has its way. The figure represents a 14 percent increase from the fiscal year 2001 level of $316 billion, the level of spending when the Bush administration came into office.

These figures do not include the $17.5 billion in emergency funding that Congress allocated to the Pentagon late last year to help cover the cost of fighting the war in Afghanistan. The war is estimated to cost nearly $2 billion monthly, and the Pentagon is expected to seek more war-related supplemental funding in the weeks ahead.

Military advocates are taking full advantage of the public support for the war on terrorism to build the military. Given the patriotic mood of the country, they are confident that congressional members will only reluctantly vote against military spending.

The 2003 fiscal year begins next October.

The latest Pentagon-proposed increases run $20 to $30 billion (depending on who is doing the counting) over this year’s spending figure, but would be less than the $33 billion increase approved by Congress last year, the largest single increase since the Reagan era.

The armed services are clamoring to accelerate major weapons programs that have been delayed by budget squeezes in the past. Early last year, there was much speculation that some of those programs -- including a new generation aircraft carrier, the Army’s Crusader mobile artillery unit and the Marine Corps’s V22 Osprey aircraft -- might be canceled or reduced. Now military officials are predicting that all those programs will be financed in 2003, and that some will be expanded. Senior officers have also complained privately that a $20 billion increase will not be enough, raising the likelihood that they will lobby Congress for more money.

The budget proposals include funding to continue the development of the nuclear missile defense shield, which is eventually expected to run well in excess of $100 billion. The Fiscal 2002 Pentagon budget allows $8 billion for defense shield development.

The latest Pentagon-proposed spending increases come during a time of an economic downturn, when other federal agencies are being told to trim spending to balance declining tax revenues. The Pentagon, meanwhile, appears to have, if not a carte blanche to spend, at least the freest atmosphere of all the federal agencies in which to work.

“We’re in an atmosphere where not many hard choices are being made,” Gordon Adams, a budget official in the Clinton administration, told The New York Times, referring to the mood in the Pentagon. “And as long as we’re not making hard choices, there will be an attempt to have it all.”

The size of recent increases in Pentagon spending is unparalleled in recent times and defies ready comprehension. For example, the $44 billion increase since fiscal 2001 would be greater than any other nation’s annual defense budget: Japan -- $41 billion; Great Britain -- $35 billion; Russia -- $29 billion; Germany -- $23 billion; or China -- $14.5 billion.

President Eisenhower’s warning about the “acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the military-industrial complex is more relevant today than it was in 1961 when the celebrated general delivered his farewell address to the nation. The Pentagon’s political muscle grows by the year -- at the nation’s peril. With money, elections and politics so closely tied together, the influence the military would normally exercise on any administration, Republican or Democrat, becomes overwhelming, amounting to a stranglehold on government priorities and the nation’s ideals.

National Catholic Reporter, January 18, 2002