Reports from the Economic Front

a blog by Marty Hart-Landsberg

The Military Squeeze

Discussions of health care always seem to involve cost calculations that suggest we really cannot afford meaningful change.  Yet somehow our national obsession with the cost of health care reform never extends to spending on the military or a discussion of the trade offs between spending on health care and the military.

Want to get a quick look at our ever escalating military spending—check out the cost of war web site. 

The US now accounts for between 42 and 48 percent of total global arms spending (depending on definitions and sources).  Here are the top ten spenders as of 2008 (in billions of dollars) according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

1. United States — 607.0
2. China — 84.9
3. France — 65.7
4. United Kingdom — 65.3
5. Russia — 58.6
6. Germany — 46.8
7. Japan — 46.3
8. Italy — 40.6
9. Saudi Arabia — 38.2
10. India — 30.0

The growing militarization of our budget is strangling all other priorities.  For example, between 2001 and 2008, the federal budget grew by 28%.  Over that same period, grant funding for state and local governments (which are now in crisis and slashing spending) rose by only 14% while spending on the military grew by 41%.  And this calculation is based on a very conservative definition of military spending—it does not include spending on veterans’ health care needs or interest payments due to past military generated budget deficits.

The Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2009, signed into law by President Obama on June 24, 2009, added $45.5 billion in spending for the war in Iraq and $39.4 billion in spending for the war in Afghanistan—for a 2009 fiscal year total of $84.8 billion.  This brought total war-related spending for Iraq to $687 billion and for Afghanistan to $228 billion–a total war cost of $915.1 billion.

We are talking real money here–enough to finance real social change.  And again these numbers do not capture the full extent of our spending on the military.

We have to turn the spotlight on our foreign policy and fully engage the debate over what defines our national interest.

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