Should The Military Be The U.S’s Top Spending Priority?


Article By Nick Zotalis


In the last few weeks it has not been difficult to find news coverage of the NFL national anthem protest controversy. Every single major news outlet has devoted a huge amount of time and resources towards covering this latest scandal to rock the United States. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, and so on have all offered extensive takes and analysis concerning the protest.


It seems to be the most pressing issue since transgender bathrooms were in the news, or the Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared and CNN spent two weeks speculating that maybe a black hole ate it.


The American media is very good at taking minor stories and blowing them up into topics of national debate. There happens to be one area, however, where nearly everyone in the mainstream quietly came to a consensus. While we were all busy making facebook posts about the NFL, a quiet near-unanimous decision in the Senate confirmed an increase of the military budget by $80 billion.


Throughout his campaign, President Trump repeatedly called for the “rebuilding” of the United States’ military, and quickly upon winning the presidency requested the annual military budget be increased by $54 billion.

Image Credit: US Department of Defense | Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee

Just this requested increase already represented a larger sum of money than all but five countries spend on their militaries each year. Only China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, and France do. However, the Senate went a step farther and granted an increase of $80 billion per year.


One may observe that President Trump has not exactly received glowing praise from Democrats and even Republicans, particularly on the matter of foreign policy. He has been called unhinged, insane, reckless, and his coverage by left-leaning establishment media has been overwhelmingly negative.


This is not to say that this treatment is not deserved, but it must be noted that when it came to voting for a massive increase in the size of the military, of which Trump is now Commander-in-Chief, only four out of the 46 Democrats in the Senate voted against. The bill passed with an 89-8 majority, an overwhelming victory. Here are the full numbers.


The Democrats are not the only side to critique after the passing of this bill. Republicans claim to be the party of “small government” and frequently take aim at entitlements, welfare, and new proposals such as single-payer health care or tuition-free colleges as being overbearing, unrealistic and wasteful.


With that in mind, let’s look at what else could be done with this massive increase to the largest government institution in the United States, which 47 out of 52 Republicans voted for, and if this increase is even necessary.


Option 1: Outspend Russia’s entire military

The comparisons made before regarded the $54 billion increase. Now that this has been upgraded to an $80 billion increase, it represents a number larger than the entire military budget of all but just one country, China.


Russia’s annual budget sits at just $69 billion, well below this proposed increase, and a miniscule fraction of the entire U.S. defense expenditure, which will rise to well over $800 billion a year with this new addition. With Russia often cited as a key strategic opponent of the United States, it is worth remembering the already enormous disparity in military spending.


Option 2: Pay for tuition free public college

That was not a typo. During the 2016 presidential election, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the notion of tuition free public colleges into popular discourse. Critics primarily from the right but also from the left wing dismissed the idea as being too expensive, too impractical, and so on.


However, looking at a report by the U.S. Department of Education reveals that the cost of making the 629 public 4-year universities in the United States completely tuition-free would be roughly $62 billion dollars. The full report can be found here. In other words, one could completely achieve the goal of eliminating tuition from public universities and still have $18 billion left over to allocate to the military if so desired.


Option 3: Renovate infrastructure in disaster-prone areas

No one needs to be reminded of the devastation that struck the United States during Hurricane Harvey, Katrina, Sandy, and others. The extent of the damage can be attributed in large part to crumbling infrastructure.


The system of levees designed to protect high-risk cities like New Orleans from flooding has barely been updated since the New Deal. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that renovating and improving these levees would require $80 billion over ten years. Therefore if just ⅛ of the military increase was dedicated to improving this key infrastructure for ten years, we would go a long way towards drastically reducing or eliminating deaths and destruction from natural disasters.

Image Credit: Newtown Graffiti

Option 4: Eliminate homelessness

A Habitat for Humanity home costs roughly $85,000 on average to build. There are approximately 560,000 homeless people on any given night in the United States. This yields a total cost of $47 billion to eliminate homelessness, which is just over half of the proposed military increase and would be a one-time payment, not ongoing.


Option 5: Increase NASA’s budget by 400%

NASA’s current budget is $18 billion per year. No human has visited the moon since the crew of Apollo 17 in December 1972, 45 years ago, and visits to Mars look very far away as well. Funding NASA means more than just exploring space, too. NASA-invented technology ranges from solar cells to GPS to artificial limbs and has made a substantial impact on our way of life. If NASA was given $80 billion more a year, the number of new telescopes, space stations, inventions, and missions that could be planned and executed is staggering.


The last point to address is whether or not the United States needs this military budget increase. The United States is already in possession of the most powerful military that has ever existed. The American navy is as large as the navies of the next eight countries combined. It has 19 aircraft carriers, while the rest of the world combined has 12. Ten of America’s are nuclear-powered, while France fields the only other one in existence.


The United States has more military planes and helicopters than the next seven countries combined, and those that it does possess are significantly more advanced than their foreign counterparts, the U.S. being the only country with fifth-generation fighters.


The United States’ 9000 tanks are also the most technologically advanced in the world, and its number of active military personnel, 1.34 million, is third only to India and China. Add to all of this the fact that the United States is one of only two significantly-armed nuclear powers, and that our defense spending per year is higher than that of the next seven countries combined.


The American military also just happens to operate nearly 800 military bases in other countries, in as far-flung locations as Greenland and Djibouti. For comparison, Russia has just ten foreign bases, and all but one (Vietnam) of them is in its immediate sphere of influence.


China has just one, also in Djibouti oddly enough. All other countries in possession of foreign military bases are official allies of the United States, and even then the grand total of these bases comes out to just 30.


Getting the picture yet? No one would argue that the United States should not have a very powerful military, indeed the most powerful in the world. The disturbing trend and point of this piece is that the expansion of a military that is already extremely bloated and eats up more than half of the U.S. discretionary budget barely gets any attention.


In addition, the mainstream media seems to focus on insubstantial issues whenever Congress is about to carry out an action like this. We can also safely disregard talking points from both sides to the contrary, since this latest military increase, just like all the others before it, passed with an overwhelming majority.


With the countless noble possible alternative uses for all this money, it is time for America to have a serious discussion as a society about our priorities.



Feature Image Credit: Michael Vadon

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