Spend Wisely, Not Wildly, On the Pentagon
The Sept. 11 attack on America confirms what Americans know: We live in an uncertain world, where the most horrific dangers and tragedies challenge our values and democratic principles. Our response to our recent horror should be driven not only by anger, but by wisdom and a long-term vision.
America must not simply throw more money at military preparedness. We can spend our money wisely, without shortchanging our security in any way.
So, while recent votes by lawmakers for quick defense increases are understandable, they should still be scrutinized. Simply put, spending more money on defense will not necessarily make us more secure.
What's required in the long term -- as we spend whatever is necessary on quick fixes, like airport security -- is to transform our military's Cold War strategy. The Pentagon needs to focus on modern threats, like terrorism, and develop the best weapons and other tools available to counter these threats.
This means taking a fresh look at the need for spending hundreds of billions of dollars on new weapons systems designed to fight the Cold War and the Warsaw Pact, which ironically included the very nations that America is now organizing to join us in the international fight against terrorism. For example, the F-22 fighter jet was originally intended to drop bombs deep in Soviet Union. It has little use for today's threats, and it would be of no use for responding to our recent tragedy. Yet the $64 billion program is set to receive $4 billion from Congress next year alone -- money that could go a long way toward addressing the real needs of our military.
While the F-22 may be obscure to those who don't follow Pentagon affairs, missile defense is widely known, thanks to the Bush Administrations inexplicable emphasis on it. It is projected to cost between $100 and $500 billion, four to 20 times more than we spend on "international affairs," which is basically our budget for diplomacy.
With all its technical problems and limited use, common sense dictates that the Pentagon focus resources away from missile defense, which is earmarked to receive over $8 billion next year -- more than we spend annually on the Coast Guard.
Like many of the new weapons America is building, our overall military strategy is still oriented to the Cold War. Our readiness posture is to be prepared to win two major, simultaneous wars. As part of this strategy, we have overwhelming military power forward deployed around the world -- despite the reality that some of our most threatening enemies will not confront us on a field of battle. Instead, they will attack civilian and military targets here at home using terrorist and guerilla tactics. By bringing home tens of thousands of troops from Europe and Asia, we could save over $25 billion per year, some of which could be used to defend the homeland. Just as America must resist the temptation to spend wildly on the Pentagon, we should not let our justifiable anger lead us to shortchanging diplomacy in favor of an emphasis on military action. Diplomacy is one of our best weapons against terrorism. Now is the time, in conjunction with our military preparations, to step up diplomatic initiatives. We should not lose sight of the fact that military violence can fan the fanatical flames of terrorism, particularly in impoverished nations.
Neither should America fail to recognize that our continued economic strength is certainly one of our most potent weapons in the 21st Century. Our ability to project our democratic and humanitarian values around the globe will help us stop terrorism. This depends, in part, on our ability to maintain a vibrant economy.
From a broader national security perspective, therefore, it is essential that in addition to reasoned changes in military strategy in response to last week's tragedy, we must also ensure that, for long term economic security, we provide our people, particularly our kids, with the best education and other basic needs.
We all know from history that tragedy breeds opportunity. Our tragedy can serve the vastly useful purpose of focusing renewed attention on the need for rational spending at the Pentagon and on the need for a deeper understanding of "security" in the coming decades.
Vice Admiral Jack Shanahan (USN, ret.) is the former commander of the U.S. Second Fleet and heads the military advisory committee of the Priorities Campaign (www.moveourmoney.org).