Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Why Size Does Matter - Article by Ilana Bet El

From the Guardian:

Why size does matter

by Ilana Bet El

The US defence budget was already bloated; now, it is obese. And that's not healthy for America - or for the world.

There are sums of money that are obscene: sometimes, it is the actual sum, especially if it is very large or small; sometimes, it is the purpose, especially if it is socially unacceptable; sometimes, it is the disproportion between the sum and the purpose; and sometimes, it is a combination of all three. The US defence budget now tabled by President George W Bush falls into the latter category.

Totalling US$623bn, it is an obscene amount - which sounds only slightly better in euros or sterling, given the weak dollar: €481.6bn, or £316.47bn. This is not only larger than any other defence budget in the world, or indeed, nearly all other national defence budgets combined; it is actually larger than most overall national budgets, including those of the developed world. One analyst reckoned it would be the 17th biggest, just behind the Dutch national budget.

To be absolutely accurate, the actual defence budget requested is US$481.4 billion (€372.18bn; £244.55bn), which, in itself, is an 11% increase over last year. The balance of the request is in emergency funding for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007-08, and for counter-terrorism needs.

However, whichever way you look at the figures, they give cause for alarm, for five main reasons. First, because spending such a huge amount of money on troops and materiel for conflict in a world still suffering from hunger, deprivation and disease in various quarters, simply jars. One does not need to be a card-carrying member of a pacifist NGO to feel this to be properly obscene. Nor does one need to raise the spectre of Aids ravaging Africa when apparently 40% of US citizens have no medical insurance.

This leads to the second point, which is that such disproportion must be dangerous to the very fabric of US society. For, even in a country based upon a contract of winner takes all - the "American Dream" - there is a need to keep a more equitable balance between internal and external spending. This is especially true in a period in which many middle- and lower-class Americans are already disenchanted with globalisation, for fear of losing jobs and production to cheaper locations. Moreover, given the immense US national deficit (currently US$244bn, or €188.6bn/£123.93bn), the mega defence budget is effectively being financed by these same competitors in the guise of China, Japan and other international creditors. This situation cannot be sustainable over time - neither in the US social sphere, nor in the international economic one.

The third reason for alarm at this budget is that, in many ways, it suggests throwing good money after bad. Put more bluntly: money and spending are not proof of being the global superpower. Given the US military is taking a beating in Iraq and has yet to resolve its conflict in Afghanistan, we can ask: is it really the most powerful in the world? If North Korea can announce it has gone nuclear (though the assertion is yet to be proven), while over 20,000 US troops are stationed on its border, and Iran can continue to taunt the world with its nuclear intents as nearly 150,000 US troops are positioned in neighbouring Iraq, what value is there to supreme military power?


No comments: